Social media is a wild frontier, a place where opinions both smart and stupid roam free. At times it can seem as though for every kind and thoughtful comment, there’s an equally venomous and cruel one. I recently received a call from a client regarding an employee’s (placed by us) behaviour in this space; they informed me that, as a result of the staff member’s unpleasant actions, they were being let go.
Social media has not been with us for long, yet it’s impact is far reaching and raises important questions. Should you ever pay for a social media mistake with your job? And how should we behave on social media knowing the potential consequences for our personal brands?
Fired for Facebook
One unsavoury post about people with disabilities was all it took. The ‘jovial’ opinions expressed by my client’s staff member were brought to the company’s attention by the market, who it seems weren’t pleased they were employing someone who would say such things.
While I advised that perhaps disciplinary action was the more appropriate path, the rationale for firing isn’t too difficult to see – companies fear they’ll the target of a public furore like that Justine Sacco and her employer faced back in 2013. For her, it was a careless tweet – a racist joke about Africa and AIDS – sent before boarding a plane. When she landed and re-entered service, her phone exploded into song, with choruses of people singing for her dismissal. A media storm ensued and her employer acceded, though not without a conciliatory statement hoping the incident wouldn’t result in the “wholesale condemnation of an individual who we have otherwise known to be a decent person at core”.
Consider the impact of your actions when using social media.
It’s important to keep in perspective what’s happening in these circumstances. People aren’t being fired for their opinions per se – it’s the public and unthinking airing of them, with the potential for reputational damage to the company that does it.
Free speech in the firing line?
Judgements on what is and isn’t an offensive opinion or post vary from person to person. This is a fact of life. The fear among many is that expressing opinions online is fast becoming a minefield worth avoiding, the effect of which will be a chilling of free speech.
These fears are, for the most part, overblown. Self-censorship in the real world already exists, in so far as there are widely accepted norms about what is and isn’t appropriate to say in certain situations. A comment you might make to your best friend is one you mightn’t make to your Mum. A view you profess in a public forum may be different to the one you espouse in the privacy of your own home.
Whether or not this is a ‘chilling effect’ on truly honest thoughts that we’d be better off without is a question beyond the scope of this post. My point is merely that watching your tongue – based on who’s listening – is an accepted part of everyday life. And on social media, everybody’s listening.
How to be responsible on social media
Ask yourself: “Would I be happy for this quote, post or comment to be attributed to me and my face on a billboard?”
There are no hard and fast rules about what responsible social media use entails. What is a light-hearted joke to one person is deeply offensive to another. This fact will never change. That said, there are some general guidelines you can follow.
First is to remember that many social media platforms are public. Depending on your settings, a Facebook or Twitter post can be seen by anyone capable of searching your name in Google. If you want to say controversial things, it would be prudent to clamp down on your privacy settings, or else run the risk of backlash.
Second is to ask yourself, “would I be happy for this quote, post or comment to be attributed to me and my face on a billboard?” This mental shift can help you better determine whether you’re crossing lines on your personal branding you don’t wish to cross. When you’re just behind your keyboard, it can be easy to forget the reach your actions have – the billboard trick can keep it closer to the front of your mind.
When it comes to social media, be kind, be thoughtful, be considerate, and most of all, use your common sense.
Reach out to us at Reo to learn more about how we can help you be a better candidate.
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