Anti-social media: Troublesome Tweets

This blog has featured several entries about controversial Facebook posts and the troubles they can cause employees, but it seems that saying something in 140 characters (or less) may be even more damaging. Careless Twittering has been in the news and cost several people their jobs or business ties as of late. For example:

• Insurance giant AFLAC fired comedian Gilbert Gottfried for tweeting about the devastation in Japan (Gottfried is the voice of the trademark Aflacduck). Gottfried, known for his offhand and often vulgar comedy, posted some insensitive tweets about the tsunami. AFLAC immediately broke their ties with the comedian.
The New York Times reports that an employee of New Media Strategies, an agency handling the Twitter account for Chrysler brand, commented on his Twitter account that “I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the Motor City and yet no one here knows how to [expletive] drive.”
• Even law officials are not immune. Indiana Deputy Attorney General Jeff Cox was fired for remarks he made on Twitter, suggesting riot police in Wisconsin should use live ammunition when clearing protesters out of the Wisconsin Capitol building.
• Last year, CNN said it dismissed a senior correspondent who used her Twitter account to praise a Muslim cleric associated with the terror group Hezbollah (removing any sense of objectivity to her reporting).

We lean towards the point of view that one should not blame the tool when it has been misused (like a Little League shortstop throwing down and kicking his glove when he makes an error). Twitter (and similar social media tools) can be a very effective tool for marketing, building relationships and communications.  Social Media tools can also create serious issues for employees and their employers. The New York Times reports that George E. Belch, a marketing professor at San Diego State University, reminds employers that “there are people in your company who forget when they post on a blog, on Twitter, on a Facebook page, that it’s out there — and it’s out there at warp speed.” In other words, messages can go “viral” and cause havoc (as in the cases above).

As we’ve said before, it’s important to think carefully about online postings, especially if you’re being paid to represent an organization. And, don't forget: in many ways we all represent our organizations and we do so 24/7. We should all practice being responsible, and being prepared to be accountable for what we write.


Condition of Employment: Facebook Login and Password?

You have the right to remain silent … about some things . . . when interviewing for a job. It's well known that some questions are off-limits because, for example, they could imply a discriminatory intent. But, do you have the right to keep your Facebook password and login info to yourself when you’re applying for a job? The ACLU says that you do, and they’re going after the Maryland Division of Corrections (MDOC) over the issue.

According to the ACLU, the Division of Corrections “has a blanket requirement that applicants for employment with the division, as well as current employees undergoing recertification, provide the government with their social media account usernames and personal passwords for use in employee background checks.”

An NBC report states that the MDOC simply wanted to make sure that their employees are not engaged in any illicit activities. The MDOC has issued their own statement, defending and explaining their actions: “DPSCS reserves the right to inquire about a possible candidate's Facebook account during the hiring or re-certification process. However, it does not require/demand it as stated in the ACLU release. A candidate's refusal is not grounds for disqualification.”

The motives of the ACLU and plaintiff are not our concern. Neither is MDOC’s claim that a candidate or current employee will not be prejudiced by failing to disclose his or her Facebook information. What we do find interesting is that once again, the issue of electronic privacy within the workplace has arisen, and the courts are being forced to examine how far employers can go, and what liability the employee has.

The latest news is that the MDOC policy has been pulled for the next 45 days as it goes under review. However, as we have said in these columns before, there should be no realistic expectation of privacy anywhere on the internet. Facebook, currently popular and with a high profile, tends to be in the middle of these controversies but the concern should not be limited to this one service.

Watch What You Say (and Write)

We’ve been asserting for a while that social network access is becoming a significant area of employment law. Take, for example, a recent California case involving a waitress who was fired for making disparaging remarks on her Facebook page about a customer. According to the California Employment Law Report, the court ruled that, under the circumstances of that case, postings to social networking sites are not private.

It seems we’re developing a legal theory that employers can view, and possibly even act upon, information their employees put on the Internet. To paraphrase an earlier California court ruling, no reasonable person can have an expectation of privacy regarding material published on the internet.

But it can go even further. One employer in Montana asked job applicants to provide the login information to their social networking sites, so the employer could view those sites, thereby learning more about the potential employee.

At some point, perhaps state legislators or the courts will specifically define what employees can and cannot expect regarding online privacy. Until that time, however, employers need to extend their policymaking to cover social networks.

Facebook isn’t going away anytime soon. According to Newsweek, there are now over 500 million members. A final suggestion to disgruntled employees, or anyone who may have had a bad day at the office: keep it off your Facebook. There are clearly a lot of people watching.

 image, courtesy