Today, briefly, the Washington Post had a bot on their internal Slack setup:
The Washington Post's Slack just sent this to the entire newsroom.
Democracy dies in thirstiness. pic.twitter.com/2Rj8rNm9zv
— Gene Park (@GenePark) May 1, 2017
(For those unaware of Slack, it’s a chat app mostly oriented towards businesses, including my current day job, which is not the Post.)
That bot was installed for only a few minutes, but its very existence is quite troublesome. Essentially, it would allow employees to “confidentially” admit a crush on a coworker, and the bot would alert both employees if they both admitted to crushes on each other.
So let’s break that down, starting with Boringco: a company made up exclusively of heterosexual, cisgendered, single people, and a 50/50 split between men and women.
Independently, account managers Paul and Susan admit to the bot they have crushes on each other, so now they’re aware of the mutual attraction. So what do they do? Are they supposed to go out on a date?
Mike wants nothing to do with that. But in the breakroom, he hears a lot of his coworkers talking about the bot and speculating on crushes. He doesn’t want to be left out, so he’s pressured to play along.
Brianna is Bill’s supervisor. … You can see where that’s going.
But Boringco doesn’t exist. The modern workplace is much more diverse and vibrant. There are gay, lesbian and bisexual folks. There are folks who are pansexual and asexual. There are folks all over the gender spectrum. And there are folks whose orientation or gender identity don’t quite fit any category.
And a lot of them don’t tell their coworkers.
It’s tough enough being “in the closet” with people you see all day, perhaps more than any romantic partners, and feeling just a little more ostracized for not participating in a “crush” bot is just going to drive those people even further away.
But, wait, there’s more. In the past few weeks we’ve seen all sorts of news coming out from a major news organization, one that ended up firing its biggest star. Before that, brogrammer culture was on full display at one of the darlings of the tech industry. That bot just opens up another avenue for harassment: “Hey, don’t you have a crush on me?”
Slack as a business communication tool is good. And there are bots that are incredibly useful to help automate work and improve communication and productivity within teams. But this shows one of its biggest weaknesses: *anybody* can install bots like that, and perhaps, by accident, turn a good thing bad.
(Listing image: FreeImages.com/Noel Abejo)