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Case Study # 2 – A CEO Flames Out on Facebook

The Company

Badger Coal Corporation in West Virginia is a U.S. subsidiary of the International Clean Coal Enterprises, a UK-based company that has operations in several Eastern U.S. states.  Badger, which has not been in the news very much, ever, employs approximately 550 miners and mining staff.  Its operation has maintained a good reputation among state regulators and public policy makers.  The only problem is the outspoken nature of the CEO of Badger Coal.

The Crisis

Months of inappropriate rants culminated on Memorial Day 2012, when Benson Carter, the CEO of Badger Coal, took to his Facebook site and, as he had done several times before, loosed a long and characteristic rant.  It was racist, it was misogynistic, it was offensive, and it was incredibly stupid.

His posting was seen by hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom were familiar with his previous rants.  Employees e-mailed Board members, demanding that they put a stop to this embarrassing, humiliating behavior.

The Board had already tried repeatedly to stop him. After a previous rant, Carter had been admonished officially by the general counsel, told his use of Facebook was prohibited, ordered to take the site down, and instructed to cease using that kind of attention-getting hate speech.

The Complexities

Company attorneys were rebuffed when they requested that Facebook suspend Carter’s site and take down existing posts.  Comments coming into his site were about 6-to-1 against what he was doing. However, he had literally thousands of supporters, many of whom actually complimented the company on allowing a senior executive to speak as freely and as candidly.

Women’s groups, various ethnic groups, and religious groups provided their member organizations and local media with excerpts from these racist and inflammatory comments.  One group asked all of the company’s customers to cease purchasing from the company, even if it meant breaking current contracts. They stated that the company’s union retirement fund should dump its stock or sue the directors.

Weekly demonstrations were being announced for the company’s headquarters and at the homes and businesses of corporate directors. Angry pressure groups threatened not only to post the names of the corporate directors – a matter of public information – but also to provide their home addresses and other personal information, including the names of their children and where they went to school.

Even in spite of all the warnings – and the turmoil caused by his behavior – Benson Carter took advantage of a pleasant holiday weekend to post one more rant on Facebook. Thus, the whole situation came to a head on Memorial Day, 2012.

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