In every news article I’ve come across since I began looking at this issue, the constant theme in every firing over a social media post is the surprise that the victim feels at being removed for their own words. They thought their comments were private, or they weren’t “that bad,” or even that it was illegal to be fired for a social post. Unfortunately all are wrong, depending on where you sit. Lets look at each area.
The internet is not private. Social media sites are inherently designed to share the information posted on their pages. Simply put, if you are concerned that someone might see something you don’t want revealed online, its best to not put it there. This is an oversimplification, but its also the easiest solution–we can parse Facebook’s privacy settings to the nth degree, and the result will still most likely be that your information is visible. As my fortune cookie recently read, “If you don’t want to have to keep it a secret, don’t do it.” On Facebook.
It Wasn’t That Bad
This is a completely subjective area. What’s not that bad to you can be horrific to someone else, and as an employee (as opposed to employer), you don’t have much of a leg to stand on. If you’re company is one of the vast majority that doesn’t have a personal or professional social media policy, then you’re at the mercy of someone else’s judgment, plain and simple.
Interestingly enough, the legal issues here are actually where the waters are muddiest. No clear legal precedent has been set regarding First Amendment rights to free speech as applied to social media, although the conversation has started. The National Labor Relations Board is reviewing the firing of an EMT who was fired for posting negative statements on her Facebook page about her boss. The company did had a policy against criticizing management. The National Labor Relations Act gives employees the right to unionize and to discuss workplace issues among themselves, and they will review the case later this month to determine if Facebook conversations qualify.
An oft-repeated solution is to “use common sense” in social networking. Which I say is fine, as long as its not your own. If you’re concerned about being judged (or worse) on the basis of your social media activities, and you don’t want that to happen, then you need to put yourself in the shoes of the person who is doing the judging, or run the risk of becoming one of the growing masses fired over social media.