A Thin Line Between Love & Hate: Social Media Edition

Social media has invaded our lives! It has become an integral part of our socialization, self promotion, leisure and now our work.  This invasion into our work lives comes with numerous pitfalls. Many of which I’ve discussed on this blog before (Who Owns Your Profile?: Be Careful How & Where You Use Social Media, NLRB Decision #2: Be Careful What You Post on Social Media!, Social Media: Personal Expression or Supplement to Your Resume?, and NLRB Issues First Social Media Decision – What Does this Mean?)

As cases of employees loosing their job because the medium they love has “betrayed” them continue to pop up, I urge you again to be careful what you post. Revealing too much information can get you fired! There is a voyeuristic nature and a desire to share and stay connected in today’s society that has made social media (and reality tv – but that’s a topic for another day) popular. That desire is normal and appropriate within reason. Share about your mall trip and the new clothes you purchased, connect with old and new friends, share photographs but make sure that your social media persona matches your professional persona or you can run into trouble. Remember this information never goes away…

 

Here are a few individuals who have lost their jobs because of the information they’ve posted on the sites they love.  Learn from their mistakes. A Michigan nurse and a Washington barista both lost their jobs because of over-sharing on social media.  The nurse was fired for FMLA fraud after the hospital where she worked saw Facebook pictures of the Mexican vacation she took while still on leave. The barista was fired for using his blog as a forum to insult his customers and boss.

Recently, a tenured New Jersey schoolteacher named Jennifer O’Brien was fired after she vocalized the following opinions about her students on her private Facebook page (from opinion PDF):

I’m not a teacher – I’m a warden for future criminals!

They had a scared straight program in school – why couldn’t [I] bring [first] graders.

Understandably, students’ parents and the principal found her comments offensive, and instantly challenged her continued role as an educator.

In response to being charged with “conduct unbecoming a teacher,” O’Brien argued that her expression should be protected by the First Amendment’s right to free speech. However, free speech only goes so far in the work environment, as defined by the Pickering Test.  Another one bites the dust…

Lessons:
  1. Free speech only goes so far when it comes to your job, especially if you are a public employee.
  2. Review everything before you post. This information is out there forever so make sure it aligns with your current interests and your future interests.  This is especially for true for the generation growing up only knowing the access that comes with phenomena like social media.  Many of these individuals lack the desire for privacy and the awareness of the consequences of over sharing that is important in a professional context.
  3. Some opinions should be kept to yourself or at least not posted on the internet.  Although you are entitled to your opinion, there are consequences for our actions. Make sure that the opinions you state are either uncontroversial or worth taking a stand for.
  4. Check the privacy settings on your social medium. Know what your settings are and who you allow to see your posts. Making accounts widely available is not bad, just act accordingly. Although, “private” accounts are not an excuse to make reckless, defamatory, or inappropriate comments. Your profile or account should always reflect the persona you carry with you every day especially your professional persona.
  5. Always ask yourself “What if my [boss, potential boss, parents, grandparents, children, etc] were to see this post?”  If you would be embarrassed, in trouble, or in any way uncomfortable then maybe you should reconsider posting that item.
Its hard when the things we love turn around and “betray” us. The nice thing about social media is we are in control of our message and as long as we post consciously and in consideration of the big picture social media can remain a safe and fun space to engage with family, friends, and whoever else you decide. Remember there is a thin line between love and hate… Don’t let your actions turn social media from a friend to an enemy.

Good luck!

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