Last week, two of my Facebook friends joined “cause” groups on the social-networking site. One signed up for “DEFEAT Proposition 8,” the other enlisted with, “Stop Abortion!” I have a diverse group of online pals.
While the Internet is a great place for self expression, how often do you consider the consequences of flashing your politics in public? After all, people judge us by the company we keep — in the office, in the community and online.
It was Dan Cooper who got me thinking about the consequences of free speech. Until a few weeks ago Dan was president and CEO of Cooper Firearms of Montana, a manufacturer of high-end rifles used by discerning sportsmen. But Dan also was a supporter of Barack Obama, and he said so publicly. I suspect many of you did the same.
Dan’s public endorsement of the Democratic candidate became his “career ending move.” His support for Obama sparked a blowup in the gun blogs and inflamed the passions of rapid gun-rights groups like the NRA and those who align with it. Some called for a boycott of Cooper Arms, incensed that its CEO would dare support a candidate who has supported gun control.
Not wanting to hurt the company or those who work for it, Cooper opted to resign his post.
Dan’s fate seems unfair to most rational beings, but it illustrates a lesson that too may have yet to learn: Free speech isn’t free. It comes with consequences, many of them harsh and unjust.
We should all support Dan Cooper’s right to express his views on any issue he chooses. But Dan — you should have kept this one to yourself. You had to know it would inflame the gun-rights people, many of whom are your customers. Surely you know, after 50 years in the firearms trade, how little it takes to set them off. If you’ve forgotten, ask legendary hunter and sportsman Jim Zumbo. He’ll tell you.
The folks who lead and influence discussions in the firearms world can hurt you and hurt you bad. They have a grassroots army that can muster for battle faster than most of us can tie our shoes. They’re rabid, single-issue voters who worship at the altar of the 2nd Amendment. They will beat you, Dan. No, they did beat you, just as they beat Zumbo. Point is, when we put our biases and opinions on the record, we must accept the consequences, no matter how unjust those consequences may seem.
There’s a public relations lesson here, and it’s more important than ever in the digital age: You cannot separate your personal and your business life. You must assume that all we say and do will be recorded for public inspection.
My Facebook friend who joined “Defeat Proposition 8,” has etched her position into the digital record. She has stated her support for gay marriage in a country where a majority of people feel otherwise. Some of those people may one day be her bosses and her clients.
While I agree with her position on Prop 8, my opinion on gay rights won’t impact my career. I’m dug in at Kent State, and I have tenure. (OK, the Religious Right says I may burn in hell for siding with the “queers,” but I’ll take my chances.)
Were I representing clients or speaking for them, I wouldn’t be telling you for whom I voted or for which groups I have sympathies. I’d vote the same way, for sure. But no one on Facebook would read about it.
For someone who spends half his life in the online world, I guess I’m kind of old fashioned. I still adhere to the adage, “It’s not polite to discuss politics and religion.”
Disclosure: I’m a gun owner, NRA member and defender of the right to keep and bear arms. I also voted for Barack Obama. I don’t plan to support his gun control proposals, but I do like this guy — a lot. He’s the real deal, or we’d best hope he is.