A debate over this week's police shootings on a Delta-run flight attendant Facebook page turned "divisive," prompting the company to remove the online thread, stirring controversy.
The issue began on the "Delta IFS 360" page on Facebook, a closed group for Delta Air Lines flight attendants, whose department is called "in-flight service."
A flight attendant's post on the page in the wake of the shootings in Minneapolis and Baton Rouge solicited Delta's support for the black community, as was done with the Orlando attacks and the LGBT community, according to Delta.
Delta's senior vice president of in-flight service Allison Ausband wrote on the page: "The post generated good open dialogue about an important and sensitive issue: but over the course of 7 hours turned to one that became divisive and combative. It is simply not in my heart to let those inappropriate comments stand."
The incident highlights issues companies and organizations face in managing debate among employees, as unrest and unease over issues of race spread into discussions in break rooms and online.
Some flight attendants complained in comments on Facebook that Delta's removal of the discussion was "selective" and that they were upset that their opinions expressed on the page were taken down.
Others raised concerns about the tone of some of the comments that were subsequently removed.
The original post including hundreds of comments were taken down. Delta emphasized that the original post asking for support of black community was not the issue, but that some vitriolic comments in the ensuing debate violated the company’s social media policy. Delta said it periodically removes posts on other topics that “are not reflective of the company culture.”
Ausband also wrote: "I am personally heartbroken over these events and take the sentiments you have expressed very seriously. The conversation needs to be had, we know that, and together, we'll figure out how best to move forward." She added that Delta will gather a forum of employees to discuss their ideas in coming days, and supported an idea to wear ribbons of support.
In a statement, Delta said it "wants to make sure its support of the black community is clear and as a company we are always looking for meaningful ways to support the communities in which we live and serve."
Flight attendants, a mobile group of people who don't have a single workplace and are often flying around the country and the world, often find community with their colleagues online.
But Delta flight attendants are familiar with strongly-worded debates, particularly amid unionization campaigns between pro-union and anti-union flight attendants. Unions have attempted to organize Delta flight attendants for years, and the International Association of Machinists is continuing an effort to unionize the group.