Many media outlets, including the BBC, decided to give prominent position to a 'sexist' Tweet sent by ^MS from @Virgin_TrainsEC. The Tweet has now been deleted (mistakenly in my opinion) and at the time of writing this it's unclear whether VTEC have taken any additional action.
If you read the BBC article linked to above it will explain the situation although it is all one sided. Someone on Twitter claims to have been on the train and seen the incident and claimed the person complaining was drunk and rude to the guard, but there's no way to verify that.
I'd like to back up the train manager here, I was on the same carriage and she was being loud, drunk rude and obnoxious throughout the journey. He was nothing but polite and respectful, lovely man who made my day with his compliment to me
— Jordan (@Jordan_Smith97) January 2, 2018
The only reason I mention that is because it's important when dealing with complaints to remember not everything you hear may be true.
Anyway, back to social media. I think the reply ^MS made was ill thought out, but it was trying to be humourous not offensive. Rightly or wrongly the Virgin way of customer service is to be more informal than most and even to be a bit cheeky at times, it's also worth noting that many other companies are less formal on social media channels too. Sometimes this approach backfires but very rarely does it get picked up by the press and go viral.
A job spec for a Virgin Trains social media role (it was west coast, but they try and adopt a similar style) said:
At Virgin Trains, we love to be a little different and we are proud that our social media presence is authentic, human, full of fun and often a little cheeky. At the same time, we take our responsibility to keep our customers informed very seriously.
Here's my view:
- Emily has every right to complain if she didn't find the way she was spoken to on-board acceptable and also if she wasn't satisfied with the response on social media. The people that are the problem are those that jumped on the bandwagon who neither knew Emily, or travel on VTEC, who were showing faux outrage where some were even advocating sacking ^MS or the train guard.
- I don't think ^MS intended to offend. Terms such as 'pet', 'love', etc are heard a lot in the north east particularly with the older generation (so he probably doesn't use the terms himself in day to day speech but probably sees nothing offensive with it either). There's no gender specific connotations to these words. I think he just misjudged how Emily felt by the earlier interaction and tried to add a little humour which backfired.
- Whether you found the terms used offensive or just friendly seems to have a lot to do with where you live. A poll by north east newspaper the Evening Chronicle currently has 81% saying the tweet is not offensive.
- The very worst that should happen is that the social media team and management should get together and decide the best way to handle complaints. One person should not be singled out, although a lot of people like the lighthearted approach there's been times when just about everyone on the social media team has judged the mood wrong. Discussion, not blame, is the way forward.
- I don't think the original Tweet should have been deleted, leaving the Tweet there was not going to cause additional offence so it would have been better leaving it there with an apology attached to it.
Hey @Virgin_TrainsEC !!! Have you do the *right* thing yet and sacked ^MS??!!??
— Nic Ross (@npr247) January 3, 2018
Although only a few people outright called for anyone to be sacked for the incident it's still extremely worrying that people were advocating someone should lose their job over such an insignificant issue it's also amazing that the press lapped up this story while rarely covering anything of significance to do with VTEC.
Many of the people yesterday coming online to criticise VTEC came because of the articles, many of them weren't even from the UK so probably have had little to no dealings with VTEC. Even though most didn't specifically call for sackings there's always a risk if the complaints get too much then they have to appear to do something to appease the masses.
I would describe anyone who truly wanted to see someone sacked for this incident as being truly evil. You can't destroy the life of one person because of what's, at worst, an insignificant mistake in the grand scheme of things. There's no evidence that ^MS is sexist, he's certainly not given that impression anytime with any of the Tweets he's made in the past. When you call for someone to get sacked, you're affecting the life of a real person and so you have to think do they really deserve it, or is that completely disproportionate? Some people losing their job might affect them badly, unable to afford their bills and end up homeless, often it can have a bad affect on mental health even if it doesn't financially crush them.
It seems some people don't see the bigger picture, they want to make the world a more equal place in their eyes but they're doing it by picking on easy targets for making small errors, people who haven't really done anything wrong but they're an easier target than those who they should be setting their sights on.
You don't win new supporters for your cause by trying to punish those who may disagree with your approach slightly and you always need to understand that what's offensive to one person may not be offensive to everyone particularly where cultural differences come into play. Regional dialects are dying out with time, we don't need to accelerate the process, it's a shame when each area loses a bit of what makes it unique.
I agree with equality, I think companies should choose the best person for the job after all a company should have the most talented people that they can find working for them. But equality doesn't mean having to walk on eggshells. Trying to punish people for not seeing things exactly as you do isn't going to win them over. If you want people to agree with your point of view then bullying people is not the way to go about it.
Hopefully things will return to normal in the next few days. It should blow over soon enough, but it's just the attitude of some people asking for people to be sacked has wound me up so I had to say something about it.