A few days ago, employees of spaceflight company Space X released an open letter criticizing their CEO Elon Musk. Less than 48 hours later, at least five employees who orchestrated the letter were fired.
The dam is breaking. The “listen to meeeeee” millennials, who have had an overblown influence on corporations, and on our culture, are finally being told to sit down and be quiet. It is very much overdue.
But isn’t Elon Musk supposed to be a “free speech absolutist?” screech his critics. As I explain to my small children, freedom of speech under the First Amendment means the government can’t arrest you for calling the president a doofus.
It does not mean you can do the same to your boss and expect to remain employed. (Similarly, you can’t tell your wife she’s ugly and then plead “free speech!” when she gets mad and leaves you for the pool boy.)
Free speech in America means you can go into the public square and say what you want, safe in the knowledge that you won’t end up in prison. Twitter should be included in that, which is why Musk feels so strongly about allowing open conversation on the app. As Musk has tweeted: “Given that Twitter serves as the de facto public town square, failing to adhere to free speech principles fundamentally undermines democracy.”
The letters from his SpaceX employees sought to get Musk to stop speaking out about certain topics: “Elon’s behavior in the public sphere is a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment for us, particularly in recent weeks.”
Yet there’s a difference between tweeting about a variety of subjects and maligning your employer. If your boss embarrasses you, find a new one. Your office is not the public square.
Nor can you can tweet about how terrible your workplace is and expect your bosses simply to take it, as The Washington Post’s Felicia Somnez recently found out. Somnez was finally fired after a full week of nonstop tweeting about what a horrible place The Washington Post is to work at.
The WaPo reporter first called out her supposed “friend” and co-worker Dave Weigel for retweeting what she considered to be an offensive joke about women. But then she just wouldn’t stop. She accused the company of having “systemic issues,” mocked other employees who defended the newspaper, attacked her bosses and generally behaved like a child who hasn’t gotten her way.
Or like a millennial used to being able to direct her bosses to her whims.
For some time now, corporations have been bending to people like Somnez and the angry SpaceX employees. But in the past few months, it seems like Americans have finally had enough of these entitled babies.
These people have coarsened our discourse, pretended words are the same as violence and made an international incident over retweeted jokes, until everyone was afraid to speak. They got people fired from their jobs for wrongthinking. They’re the ultimate crybullies, making sure no one gets to speak except them. For someone to finally shut them down is their just deserts.
With luck, this moment will bring back the dividing line between work and life. You shouldn’t be fired for what you tweet if it doesn’t affect your employer. But if it does, you tweet at your peril. We need to make work a separate thing from the rest of our lives again.
The higher-ups at your company are not your family; your workplace is not your home. We need a brighter division between work life and home life. Family members may love you unconditionally and forgive you for your drunken Thanksgiving outburst when you screamed that you hated everyone and wished you’d never been born, but your boss won’t and shouldn’t.
This is not a bad thing. Learning how to behave in public is something millennials should have mastered in kindergarten. That they haven’t has been an ongoing problem for our society. Let’s hope they learn it now.