We have been discussing the free speech issues raised by efforts to terminate professors who criticize the Black Live Matter Movement or aspects of the protests following the killing of George Floyd. However, there is another such controversy with the inverse fact pattern. Claira Janover has been fired as an “incoming government and public business service analyst” at Deloitte after posting a video that suggested that she would stab people who said “all lives matter.” Yesterday, we discussed a dean at the University of Massachusetts who says that she was fired for using such a line in an email. Ironically, Janover shows the same intolerance for anyone with an opposing view, but the case still raises some of the same free speech issues that we have previously discussed, including the punishment of individuals for their social media postings.
Janover just started the job after graduating from Harvard University but was fired after her TikTok video where she lashed out at anyone who tells her that “all lives matter.” She attacked anyone with “the nerve, the sheer entitled Caucasity to say, ‘all lives matter.’ . . . I’ma stab you. I’ma stab you, and while you’re struggling and bleeding out, I’ma show you my paper cut and say, ‘My cut matters, too’”
She posted that video and later returned to social media to lash out at her termination.
Janover insists that the clip was “clearly” an “analogous joke,” and noted a message with it explicitly stating: “For legal reasons this is a joke.”
I did not see the message but I honestly took the video as a poor joke. We have seen other such jokes go awry. Indeed, while such jokes can often receive strikingly different treatment from universities and employers depending on who is the butt of the joke. I would prefer a more tolerant approach that is not dependent on the content of such a posting.
For years, we have discussed the free speech concerns as private and public employers punish workers for their statements or actions in their private lives. We have addressed an array of such incidents, including social media controversies involving academics. In some cases, racially charged comments have been treated as free speech while in others they have resulted in discipline or termination. It is that lack of a consistent standard that has magnified free speech concerns. We have previously discussed the issue of when it is appropriate to punishment people for conduct outside of the work place. We have followed cases where people have been fired after boorish or insulting conduct once their names and employers are made known. (here and here and here and here and here and here).
Janover has been mocked for saying that she fear being “murdered” and added “Apparently I’m threatening the lives of people — unlike cops, obviously.”
Janover seemed to careen from the defense to the attack, hitting her company on social media: “I’m sorry, Deloitte, that you can’t see that. That you were cowardice [sic] enough to fight somebody who’s going to make an indelible change in the world and is going to have an impact.” That would certainly rule out any reconciliation with the employer. She also lashed out at Trump supporters: “I’m too strong for you. I’m too strong for any of you ‘All Lives Matter,’ racist Trump supporters. It sucks. But it doesn’t suck as much as systemic racism. And I’m not going to stop using my platform to advocate for it.”
The question however remains the same. Does it matter if you believe (as I do) that this was meant as a dumb joke? It should. She made no connection to the company. That was done, yet again, by critics who wanted her fired.
I have previously raised my concern that the greatest threat to free speech values may be coming from “Little Brother” rather than “Big Brother.” This comes in the form of private censorship of social media but also punishment by companies for statements on social media. The result is a type of fishbowl society for free speech as everyone feels that they are being monitored for any controversial pictures or statements. The result is chilling for those, like Janover, who want to speak out on political causes like Black Lives Matter. One can certainly criticize her for her rhetoric and even her views but there is no reason why her personal views should be viewed as material to their work at Deloitte.
The controversy also shows the hypocrisy of many in these controversies, including Janover. Those who fostered intolerance for opposing views are the first to demand tolerance for their own views. Those who criticize the “cancel culture” are the first to try to cancel others. I fear that the loser in all of this will be free speech and the sense of freedom to engage others on social media or public forums.