The superfast age of social media and hyper-connectivity brings with it an enormous range of benefits. Being able to interact with people instantly, all over the globe, is an innovation that has transformed the world for the better. But as social media expands, we also have to be careful about how it is used.
I was saddened that some of our customers and crew had an unpleasant experience on a recent Virgin Atlantic flight from London to Shanghai. We have fully investigated this incident and have spoken with all those involved, including fellow customers and the cabin crew present. There was an altercation between two customers on board the flight, a female customer and a male customer who has Parkinson’s disease. The altercation resulted in both individuals becoming upset and distressed. Upon noticing the argument, our cabin crew did their best to resolve the situation for all customers. The passengers were moved apart into separate seats without further interaction or incident.
Before the team was able to fully investigate the incident, one side of the story was already being shared widely online, and is generating headlines in news publications as well as social networks. This has resulted in allegations of racism - I reiterate that Virgin Atlantic and all Virgin companies and people take a zero tolerance approach to racism. We equally take a zero tolerance approach to discrimination against anybody due to a disability (and to all forms of discrimination). Sometimes the consequences of jumping to conclusions can have a significant impact, in this case on crew members who were doing their job and have received an enormous amount of abuse online.
In situations like this it is absolutely critical that the incident is fully investigated before jumping to any conclusions or making any allegations. That is especially true for any leader of a business. Until all sides of the story are gathered, it is not possible to come to a reasoned conclusion.
I love posting on social media and will continue to do so, and encourage everybody to share, listen and learn from each other online. But before you send a tweet or post a comment, ask yourself if you would be happy to say that to someone face to face. It is a great leveller and may prevent you shooting from the hip and saying something you will later regret. That way, we can all gain a lot more from interacting online in a productive and inclusive way.