‘Flipping off’ photo at Arlington National Cemetery raises serious public relations, legal issues

Lindsay Stone and co-worker are put on unpaid leave from their jobs and an angered public calls for them to be fired
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(PR NewsChannel) / November 21, 2012 / HYANNIS, Mass. 

Photo of Lindsay Stone making an obscene gesture at Arlington National Cemetery goes viral.

Photo of Lindsay Stone making an obscene gesture at Arlington National Cemetery goes viral. She says she meant no disrespect and apologized in a statement.

When Lindsay Stone decided as a joke to make an obscene gesture beside a sign at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery and post the photo on Facebook, she never expected the firestorm that would erupt.

And boy has it.

Not only has the public ridiculed and belittled her for her “disrespect,” her employer put her on unpaid leave.

Now public relations and legal experts are both weighing in.

Stone was photographed by Jamie Schuh, both work at the non-profit LIFE, Inc. which is based in Hyannis, Mass. The charity aids adults with special needs. Schuh was put on unpaid leave, too.

There’s a Fire Lindsey Stone page that has popped up on Facebook which amassed 18,000 likes by Wednesday afternoon.

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In response to the uproar, the co-workers released a statement to the “Boston Herald.”

“We sincerely apologize for all the pain we have caused by posting the picture we took in Washington DC on Facebook,” the statement says. “While posted on a public forum, the picture was intended only for our own amusement. We never meant any disrespect to any of the people nationwide who have served this country and defended our freedom so valiantly.”

Stone’s father is speaking out, saying even he is appalled but his daughter never meant any disrespect.

“She is just beside herself she had no idea is would go where it went,” Peter Stone told WHDH television in Boston. 

Neither the written statement nor Stone’s father speaking out has quieted the outcry.

“It was a boneheaded move to take a picture like this and then post it on a public site like Facebook,” says Glenn Selig, a crisis PR expert and founder of The Publicity Agency. “Even if it was meant as a joke it is not funny. The public is not going to let her off the hook so easily.”

Selig says he’s not surprised that despite the statement the furor over the photo has not gone away.

“If Lindsay Stone is bold enough to post a photo like that and project herself so front-and-center then a statement is not going to cut it,” says Selig. “People need to see her to really understand how sorry she is to make this go away. I don’t believe the public wants her life ruined because of this terrible mistake but she can’t let a statement and her father do the apologizing for her. It needs to come from her.”

Then there is the legal issue: Does the employer have a right to take action since the photo is not work related and was posted on a personal Facebook page.

“Like it or not, the employer likely did have the right to take action against these individuals,” says Kubs Lalchandani,  Co-Founder and Partner at Lalchandani Simon PL.  “The First Amendment protects individuals from government action, not private employers.  In the private arena, management discretion is generally the rule.”

Lalchandani says The National Labor Relations Act only protects an employee’s right to engage in “concerted activities” for “mutual aid or protection.”  

“This usually means protection for discussion of something related to work conditions, i.e, complaints about a supervisor or a work event. Here, there are no facts to suggest the posting of the photos had anything to do with the employees’ work,” says Lalchandani.

“Employees need to realize that social media is not private and seemingly harmless posts can result in very real life consequences.” 

Selig says it should be a reminder of how careful we all need to be on social media and that anything we write, as a joke or not, can be viewed by tons of people and will often be misconstrued.

“Think before you speak and think before you post, comment and Tweet,” says Selig.

Direct link:  http://www.prnewschannel.com/2012/11/21/flipping-off-photo-at-arlington-national-cemetery-raises-serious-public-relations-legal-issues/

SOURCE:  The Publicity Agency



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