The tweet that got Roy Jones, 49, fired didn’t stand out to him from the hundreds he reviewed every shift, though later he said it should have.
According to the Wall Street Journal (paywall), Jones, who worked on social media accounts for the company, had “liked” the tweet, on behalf of Marriott International, during a night shift in January. The problem? It had been posted by a Tibetan separatist group that had praised Marriott for listing Tibet as a sovereign state in a customer survey.
From his desk at a customer engagement center in Omaha, Nebraska, Jones says he had no sense that his $14 per hour job would be endangered by the heart.
The offending tweet:
Marriott called its labelling of Tibet an error and cut ties with the company that produced the survey.
Jones told the Journal he wasn’t aware of any instructions on the “social graces” of dealing with China. He had noticed calls for boycotts on Twitter, but he didn’t fully understand what the flap was about.
“This job was all I had,” Jones also said. “I’m at the age now where I don’t have many opportunities.”
For accidentally recognizing Tibet as a country, Marriott was ordered to suspend bookings for its 300 hotels in China for one week, which is not surprising. Marriott joins Mercedes Benz and other international brands in catching grief from China in response to social media blunders. That China is increasingly using its major market power to influence messages from its foreign business partners is a worrying trend to political analysts.
What is unusual, however, is Marriott’s harsh response. To address Jones’ errant “like,” a company would normally accept responsibility, Eric Goldman, co-director of the High-Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University in California told the Journal.
“If this were his first strike,” he said, “the employee effectively is a sacrifice to try to get Marriott back in the good graces of China.”
Quartz has reached out to Marriott for a response and will update this post if we receive one. The company issued a statement to the Journal stating that it “made its own decisions on the China-Tibet incident in line with internal policies.”