In 1942— long before the advent of the Internet or social media— Thumper offered Bambi some sage advice: “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.” That advice still rings true today. When you post on social media, you may feel like you’re just venting or sending a message to a bunch of your friends and family (especially if you are not one of those people who have several million followers). However, it’s important to remember that there is nothing private about your online posts— even if you’ve activated the highest privacy settings. Any one of your “friends” could forward your post to someone— and even a time limited post (like a Snapchat) could be saved and transmitted by a third party via screenshot.
Many employees have learned the hard way that social media posts and tweets can get you fired. While this might feel like discrimination or a violation of our 1st Amendment rights as Americans, firing an employee or a new hire for putting their foot-in-their-mouth via social media is completely legal. Some might even argue that it is a justifiable consequence. Every state except Montana has at-will employment (unless you are employee under a negotiated employment contract or union contract). This means the employee may quit or be fired for any reason, or no reason, as long as that reason is not discriminatory. The 1st Amendment protects a person from being prosecuted for their speech. It does not make all speech consequence-free. Employers have the right to fire employees who do not represent their employer well.
Here are some examples of employees and new hires that did not think before they posted on social media. Learn from their mistakes and avoid finding your tweet trending for the wrong reason.
Don’t Be a Hater.
Justine Sacco, a communications director at the Internet company InterActive Corp., lost her job as a result of the following tweet she sent just before boarding a flight from London to Cape Town: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just Kidding. I’m White!” She then turned her phone off for the 12-hour flight. Despite being a public relations professional, and having a measly 200 followers, Sacco misjudged the effect this tweet would have on her life. During the flight, her tweet started trending under the hashtag #HasJustineLandedYet and the backlash against her was fierce and quick. She tried to do damage control by deleting the tweet, then her entire online presence, but the damage to her reputation was done and so was her employment with IAC.
Damian Goddard (a freelance television broadcaster) was fired after he tweeted about his support for a NHL Hockey agent, Todd Reynolds. Why? Reynolds had previously posted a tweet slamming New York Ranger forward Sean Avery after Avery made a public service announcement in support of gay marriage. Reynolds tweeted: “Very sad to read Sean Avery’s misguided support of same-gender ‘marriage.’ Legal or not, it will always be wrong.” Goddard tweeted: “I completely and wholeheartedly support Todd Reynolds and his support for the traditional and true meaning of marriage.” Reynolds lost clients over the tweet and Goddard lost his job even though Goddard felt he was standing up for his Catholic beliefs, and that his freedom of speech and religion were violated when he was fired.
Log in, Log out, Repeat.
If you are able to post from your employer’s professional account, make sure you log out and log into your personal account before posting. Phil Hardy’s job included tweeting under Idaho Congressman, Raul Labrador’s name. Phil’s esteem for the CBS show, Two Broke Girls cost him his job after he mistakenly tweeted: “Me likey Broke Girls,” from Congressman Labrador’s twitter account instead of his own. While the tweet was only live for 14 seconds, it was long enough for Phil to be fired.
The man in charge of the official Chrysler twitter account found himself out a job after he accidently posted this tweet from Chrysler’s account instead of his personal twitter account. “I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to f***ing drive.”
Create Employer Friendly Posts Only.
Make sure you portray yourself the way your employer wants their employees to look to the public. Former 10th grade math teacher, Carly McKinney, lost her job after a local news station exposed her tweets containing revealing selfies. One was titled: “Naked. Wet. Stoned.”. She also made admissions about bringing marijuana on school property: “Watching a drug bust go down in the parking lot. It’s funny ‘cuz I have weed in my car in the staff parking lot.”. In addition, Ms. McKinney posted about grading papers while high. She later claimed that the posts were a parody and that she never brought marijuana to school. This was not enough to restore her image or job as a teacher.
Two Canadian firefighters received their pink slips after posting sexist tweets. The City of Toronto and Toronto Fire Services terminated Matt Bowman after a tweet from his account @ Hero_Matt, read: “Reject a woman and she will never let it go. One of the many defects of their kind. Also weak arms.” Later a second tweet said, “I’d never let a woman kick my ass. If she tried something I’d be like HEY! You get your bitch ass back in the kitchen and make me some pie!” His colleague Lawaun Edwards was also terminated after a tweet from his account read: “Would swatting her in the back of the head been considered abuse or a way to reset the brain?”
Long story short, if you have any questions or reservations about your employer seeing something you’re about to post on social media, refrain. If it’s already too late, tweet @ParksChesin for help– but please, keep it appropriate.