A 29-year-old TikTok star says she is waiting to learn if she will be fired by Apple for posting a video containing publicly available information about the iPhone's powerful security features. She says she's been told she violated company policy--but she can't find any rule against what she did. Her video, and Apple's apparently cringe-worthy response so far, are a lesson for every entrepreneur and business leader on what not to do when employees post their thoughts on social media.
The story begins with a woman named Stella Kim whose iPhone was stolen during Coachella. Tracking its location, she saw that it had turned up in China. Soon after, she got an email telling her that the phone was about to be auctioned on the black market and its purchaser would be able to clone the phone and gain access to all her personal information. They advised her to immediately remove the phone from her Apple account if she wanted to avoid this happening.
Kim posted an image of the email in a TikTok video asking for advice. "My question is, can people do that?" she asked. "I feel like that would be a really bad problem that iPhones would have if this was actually an issue." She asked for anyone from Apple or anyone with relevant knowledge to provide some advice.
Paris Campbell, a certified hardware engineer for Apple, saw Kim's video. Campbell is also a standup comedian and a TikTok star who, at this writing, has 448,700 followers on the platform. She responded with a TikTok video suggesting that Kim not remove the phone from her account. The phone's new owners wanted to sell it, Campbell surmised, but they couldn't. Since it was still attached to Kim's Apple account, no one else would be able to set it up with their own account. "The only reason that these people are contacting you now is because your phone is actually useless to them," Campbell said. "And you're the only person who can save them and I suggest that you don't."
Apparently, there are a lot of people out there wondering what to do if their iPhone is lost or stolen, because that video has been watched 7.8 million times so far. Many Apple customers added comments thanking Campbell for the information, and current and former Apple technicians chimed in to confirm that her advice was correct.
Eventually, though, Apple itself took notice and from what Campbell says the company was displeased. Three days later, Campbell posted another video, titled "hey apple, don't fire me." In it she said she is "patiently waiting" to find out if she will be fired over her video response to Stella, which she says the company wants her to take down. The "don't fire me" video has been viewed more than 955,000 times.
There's a lot that Apple seems to have done wrong here. (I have reached out to Apple to ask for comment, but the company has not responded so far.) Here are the biggest mistakes I can see:
1. Apple execs appear not to have read their own social media policy.
If you're going to enforce your company's social media policy, and especially if you're going to refer to it while threatening to terminate an employee, it's a really good idea to read that policy first. That doesn't seem to have happened.
"Apple is claiming that I have breached company policy by identifying myself publicly as an Apple employee," Campbell said in her "don't fire me" video. But, she said, she had reviewed the company's social media policy. "Nowhere does it say that I can't identify myself as an Apple employee publicly, just that I shouldn't do so in a way that makes the company look bad." As she pointed out, letting customers know that their iPhones have a lot of extra security built in makes the company look good, not bad.
Apple's social media policy has been leaked. Assuming the leaked version is accurate, here's what it says: If you identify yourself as an Apple employee or are known to be one, you are now connected to your co-workers, leaders, and even Apple's customers. You should ensure that content associated with you is consistent with Apple policies.
Clearly, identifying yourself as an Apple employee is not in itself a policy violation. It appears that Campbell is right.
2. Apple seems to have forgotten what its company is all about.
"Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules."
Does that sound familiar? If you work at Apple it should, because it's the script from one of the company's iconic ads, called " Think Different." In many ways, it could be describing Campbell. Apparently, Apple has lost its taste for innovators and rebels who aren't fond of rules.
3. Apple is missing an important opportunity.
This whole thing got started because Kim posted a video asking for someone from Apple to respond. She reported getting many responses, but didn't mention a response from Apple. It may be that Campbell is the only Apple employee who answered her, even though that video has been seen 1.1 million times.
Think about that for a moment. Whatever you may think of TikTok, it's unquestionably popular, particularly among the young, tech-savvy people who might be Apple's best customers. Apple itself has a TikTok channel, suggesting that it cares about the platform. Yet when a customer with a relatively large following called out the company on the platform to ask a security question and speculate that there might be "a really bad problem that iPhones would have," the company's response was ... crickets.
Do you think that Apple could benefit from having an ambassador on TikTok? Maybe one who is a successful and devoted Apple employee, who knows its products well, and also is expert at TikTok? Better yet, someone who already has a large TikTok following?
Does it seem to you that Campbell might be perfect for a role like that? It does to me. Maybe Apple should consider creating a role for her that she would obviously be good at and that the company obviously needs. If not, before too long, some smarter company will hire her away instead.