Following a groundbreaking decision by an outbound tourist service provider to call for explanation from an employee, who is alleged to have used a Facebook account to post material of a nature that can generate religious hatred, several prominent entities in the corporate sector are reported to be considering tough action against employees, who similarly cross the lines of propriety in social media domains.
While laws and other mechanism to deal with transgressions are well-known in mainstream media, they are yet to expand to the point that they cover social media as well. The example of Eco Lodge, therefore is unprecedented and empowering. It also nudges relevant authorities, state and corporate, to move fast to establish the rules necessary to keep things sane in tense and trying times when tolerance is frayed and reason scarred.
The issue came up following a candle-light vigil by a group claiming to be ‘Buddhists’ but in fact consisted of a significant number of non-Buddhists planning to question the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS). The BBS in its rhetoric and actions has irked not just people of other religious persuasions but Buddhists as well. In this instance, the heated arguments did not result in a physical altercation, but the tempers spilled over to the internet. Photographs of those who opposed the BBS were posted with derogatory remarks. There was deliberate and clear targeting which amounted to inciting violence. The BBS has also been negatively portrayed on Facebook along with mischievous conflation of that organisation and Buddhism as well as Buddhists, but at no point has there been a call for violence.
Since identity fixations have historically been easy tinder to extremist pyromaniacs, and since Sri Lanka just cannot afford another political inferno, it is prudent to nip things in the bud.
There are clauses in every contract between employer and employee in the corporate sector as well as in the Establishments Code to rein in those who go overboard with identity-fixations and respond irrationally and in unacceptable ways to wrongs by religious or ethnic others. In the 21st Century, there is very little that is ‘private’ as far as individuals are concerned. What one does in public reflect the individual, his or her family, community, profession and the institution that employs him or her? If someone is spewing intolerance and inciting violence on Facebook, he or she gets judged as does the relevant employer. If Mr A of Company X urinates in public, his CEO will not be happy, especially if A is identified with X by onlookers. It’s the same with Facebook and other social media sites.
Rules and regulations need to be revisited and amended. Employers and other heads of institutions must speak to employees about repercussion of transgression. It’s a fine line that divides opinion and intolerance, true, but that line needs to be drawn, not just by corporates but all institutions, state entities included.