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The tense of verbs may be obfuscated and my point of view in the post does not necessarily represent my actual role.

The team culture I am a part of is quite relaxed and lots of communication happens with images and gifs. Some sticky situations have occurred where an individual shares a reaction gif or a still image including a questionable person or from a non-work appropriate source that caused offense to the receiving party. Most, if not all the gifs used, come from Giphy where a person types something innocuous into the search bar like "Thanks", or "Party", or "Great Job"

Examples (Person A/B are not necessarily the same person in each):

  • Person A sends an email to a DL with an alert and shortly after replies with a "Whoops, nevermind!" As a response, Person B sends a Donald Trump "You are Fake News" gif. Someone on the DL is by no means a Trump fan and finds the gif inappropriate due to his policy and him as a person.
  • Person A sends a normal every day email and Person B responds with an innocent gif indicating an affirmative response. However, the gif is from an R-rated movie and the scene immediately following the 2 second gif is wildly inappropriate work the workplace. Person B says they are not familiar with the movie it came from, Person A is familiar with it and takes offense because the following scene is quite crude.
  • Same scenario as the previous list item, but the gif was a "Thank You" gif, and the person in the gif is an adult film star. Nothing inappropriate in the gif whatsoever. Again, Person B claims no knowledge of who the person is, found it on Giphy, but Person A knows who it is and finds it inappropriate.

None of the gifs in question, in their isolated state, are offensive, demeaning, etc. With more knowledge about their source, it is understandable that it could be inappropriate to receive a gif like that.

I need to mediate the situations at hand and keep in mind culture while upholding standard company policy (no porn in the workplace, keep politics in your personal time, no NSFW stuff on your work computer, etc.). It seems to be a tricky situation because people are claiming to not know the source of the gif material. I would rather not trash my team/department morale by not allowing them to have some fun and send silly gifs/images/vines to each other, but I absolutely want to make sure people feel comfortable and safe at work.

Would the best course of action be to go the totally safe route and say to keep it professional and get rid of the gifs/pictures in emails, ask people to know and understand where the gifs/images they are sending come from, or to say that the gifs in their current state do not violate any policy because they do not contain any inappropriate material for work? I am looking to balance legal exposure, morale of the team/individuals, and individual feelings of those who may be more sensitive/buttoned-up than others.

Technical clarification: The gifs are sent through communication apps, like MS Teams, and auto play in the communication channel due to a built-in integration with Giphy, or they are sent as links in email/chat to sites like Giphy and replygif.net

closed as primarily opinion-based by PeteCon, BSMP, gnat, IDrinkandIKnowThings, jcmack Oct 30 '18 at 17:56

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Snow Oct 31 '18 at 6:41
35

Disclaimer: Completely opinion-based.

I would allow all of the above things, assuming they are not otherwise NSFW. I feel like your coworkers are a little bit too sensitive and need to lighten up a little bit.

That said, this seems like a question based around company culture, and company culture is driven by the members of the company; if the employees of the company do not like that gifs are being sent around in jest, then perhaps you (the plural "you", i.e. everyone who is doing it, not just you specifically) should stop doing it. That said, if most of the people have fun and are joking around, and it's only a select few people who are raising these concerns, then as a manager (since it's your responsibility to mediate, I presume you have some level of authority in the company) you might want to reconsider whether or not these people are the right fit for your company/team, culture-wise.

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    The company culture aspect is crucial here; if they're taking offense to "an adult film star", I'd be more curious why they recognize them, AND THEN ARE OFFENDED. It's clear they've seen them in some sort of media before.... – Anoplexian - Reinstate Monica Oct 30 '18 at 15:56
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    @Anoplexian. Focusing on that might be a good way to resolve the issue. Or make it worse :) – Mad Physicist Oct 30 '18 at 15:58
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    The counter argument is that they find it inappropriate for a work setting. Even if they're very familiar with adult film star's body of work. Seeing her in the office while their working as opposed to at home while they entertain themselves might be where they draw the line. – Lee Abraham Oct 30 '18 at 16:02
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    @LeeAbraham That's not a good reason to take offense, you shouldn't set a double standard for pictoral impropriety if sending GIFs is the company culture. GIFs in general aren't really a work setting item, so allowing them at all means allowing all those that are SFW. It seems the company has a SFW policy, so if you're offended by that, then either the company culture isn't right for you, or you're that guy. – Anoplexian - Reinstate Monica Oct 30 '18 at 16:09
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    @vlaz Why would you then assume they're adult film stars then? Unless they're obviously NSFW, then you wouldn't know unless either someone told you, in which case are you just offended because their line of work is something you don't agree with? It sort of reminds me of those "assumptions" skits, in which they show a drawing which you think will be phallic, but turns out to be a cat or something. – Anoplexian - Reinstate Monica Oct 30 '18 at 16:12
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It sounds like this is a situation where one person isn't comfortable with the casual nature of internal communication - which is a risk with any company as it grows.

In terms of how to deal with that situation, there are really only two options: The first is to require a more formal approach to internal messages, which would mean a companywide email detailing that GIF is not an appropriate format for office communications and must no longer be used.

The second is to speak to the specific person who is taking offence, and tell them that the casual nature of communication leads to a generally more friendly and relaxed working environment, which is generally better for everybody. It's unreasonable to expect everybody to know the surrounding context for a GIF, so the company stance is that the offensiveness of any message is judged only on the content available within that message. If you have to research the source before you can find it offensive, it's not offensive.

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    +1 "If you have to research the source before you can find it offensive, it's not offensive" - Words to live by – Ertai87 Oct 30 '18 at 15:12
  • @Ertai87 I find that is turned on its head for a workplace setting. If you have to look for the source and it's potential side-connotations, it's not appropriate for you to use in a work place setting. Who knows what you might be implying to other people, who know more about it than you. – Frank Hopkins Oct 30 '18 at 16:53
  • @timbstoke you point out two valid options, but I'd also see at least one middle ground where you just discuss/reinforce what type of gifs are okay (e.g. standard smileys: sure, more special memes -> know what where they are from and what they might be interpreted as, e.g. adult movie scene can easily be interpreted as sexual advance and therefore might be off limits). So I find the "really only two options" a bit too strong a statement. – Frank Hopkins Oct 30 '18 at 16:58
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    @Darkwing if you take that approach, you're ruling out virtually any terminology that you're not intimately familiar with the etymology of and surrounding culture. If you're going to accept "casual" language in a work environment, then that must surely include taking any phraseology or memes at face value? – timbstoke Oct 30 '18 at 16:59
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    @Darkwing As an extremely simple example, the word "is" was used by Bill Clinton in his defense during the Monica Lewinsky scandal: "It depends upon what the meaning of the word 'is' is". Therefore, the word "is" can be a trigger word for sexual violence against women. I believe you have used that word many times in your responses, and could have therefore offended many people. Obviously this argument is ridiculous , but is used illustratively to show that anything can be offensive to someone silly enough to take offense to it. – Ertai87 Oct 30 '18 at 17:42
6

On it's own, a GIF is just a GIF - it has no deeper meaning. Your person A in all situations is associating those GIFs with other meanings or values which are not directly being communicated.

If it is not NSFW (literally), then generally, it should be appropriate for the workplace.

4

It would be wise to institute a company-wide prohibition on .gif attatchments, as .gif files are a popular vector to insert malware.

No need to mention anything inappropriate about the gifs, just ban them for "security reasons", which you should do anyway.

That takes the politics out of it entirely, and saves you from legions of butthurt snowflakes pounding at your door.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Snow Oct 31 '18 at 9:51
1

The solution here would be to try to grow up.

You're at the office to make money, then go home and have a life.

"Would the best course of action be to go the totally safe route and say to keep it professional and get rid of the gifs/pictures in emails..? "

Newsflash. The answer to that question would be "Uh, yes."

The best way to deal with episodes like this in life is pretend they never happened.

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    -1. I'd expect changing office culture to address a minor problem is going to cause more problems. – RJFalconer Oct 30 '18 at 17:24
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    "office culture"? unless you're 4 yrs old you don't attach stupid gifs to emails. It's an office. Work, and go home to your family. – Fattie Oct 30 '18 at 17:26
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    @Fattie You would... beat a person senseless ... if they sent your ADULT daughter, who is an ADULT, a picture of a person saying "thank you"? Just because the person in the photo also appears in porn, even though this particular photo is not explicit or lewd in nature? – MindS1 Oct 30 '18 at 17:48
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    @Fattie There are lots of highly productive people who would resent an office culture of strict conformity to standards that someone unimaginative considers professional. These people generally can get jobs they like pretty much whenever they want. If you make the office uncomfortable for them, they will leave. – David Thornley Oct 30 '18 at 17:53
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    -1 for obviously (and based on this comment thread, deliberately) missing the point. – Ertai87 Oct 31 '18 at 14:21
0

Altering company culture is a hazardous engagement.

Would the best course of action be to go the totally safe route and say to keep it professional and 86 the gifs/pictures in emails, ask people to know and understand where the gifs/images they are sending come from, or to say that the gifs in their current state do not violate any policy because they do not contain any inappropriate material for work?

You could 86 the Gifs, and that would be the safe course of action, but the best will depend. To quote John Shedd: "A ship in harbor is safe — but that is not what ships are built for." There is a tendency for businesses (and individuals) to make safe and constervative choices (risk aversion), but being in business requires risks and taking chances, sharing Gifs seems to be a way for employees to build comradery and enhance collaboration. Removing Gifs would be less risky but may reduce productivity more that the risk abated.

I need to mediate the situations at hand and keep in mind culture while upholding standard company policy (no porn in the workplace, keep politics in your personal time, no NSFW stuff on your work computer, etc.). It seems to be a tricky situation because people are claiming to not know the source of the Gif material. I would rather not trash my team/department moral by not allowing them to have some fun and send silly Gifs/images/vines to each other, but I absolutely want to make sure people feel comfortable and safe at work.

Opinion: I would suggest that at this point things are not out of hand and the best course of action would be a combination of your second and third options; to have a meeting with the employees to deescalate and make everyone more mindful and prudent of the Gifs they choose. I would also consider using Gifs in this meeting to show that they are still okay, but attempt not to rub others the wrong way. Also a formal policy on Gifs in emails would also be recommended - writing it down helps people remember and stay between the lines.

0

There's a few good arguments for disabling GIFs completely, albeit not in the situation descibed. They chew up bandwidth on end-devices (a problem if your employees ever are on limited data or are out in the sticks), they're a potential security/professionalism risk if the GIF links expire, allowing them to be replaced by GIF files loaded with exploits or just straight up porn. And if the GIFs go away, then you are left with blank meaningless messages. Finally, if the messages ever need to be audited, the use of linked GIFs can make your life a lot harder, especially if they need to be printed.

As far as the professionalism question goes:

Person B sends a Donald Trump "You are Fake News" gif. Someone on the DL is by no means a Trump fan and finds the gif inappropriate due to his policy and him as a person.

Usually I would discourage politically-related subjects on a work chat channel, no matter how informal. With that said, I have no idea why this someone is complaining about a GIF who's message largely agrees with them; The Fake News meme is a satirisation of Donald Trump calling every journalist who disagrees with him 'Fake News'.

Person A sends a normal every day email and Person B responds with an innocent gif indicating an affirmative response. However, the gif is from an R-rated movie and the scene immediately following the 2 second gif is wildly inappropriate work the workplace.

If the inappropriate scene is not in the GIF, the complainant has no standing. You shouldn't have to police content that's NOT in the messages.

Same scenario as the previous list item, but the gif was a "Thank You" gif, and the person in the gif is an adult film star. Nothing inappropriate in the gif whatsoever

Same response as above. If I post an innocent GIF of Pamela Anderson from Baywatch, I wouldn't expect people to be up in arms because she later did things of a more raunchy nature if that's not what the GIF depicts.

I would ignore the complaints, but drop the GIF thing anyway for reasons that I started this answer off with.

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