Fired via Facebook: Five social media mistakes to avoid!

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Photo courtesy of winnond / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Social media can be great but sometimes, especially when used carelessly, it can land the user in hot water. The consequences can serious when it causes friction between employer and employee. There are many potential pitfalls when it comes to mixing social media and work. Here are some of them:

1. Using social media during work time

Many people have a quick browse of Facebook or other social media sites at work. Infact, some studies suggest that 75% of employees access social media during work hours. This may not be considered such a big deal in some occupations but in others it is simply not tolerated. Therefore any employee that posts a status update, uploads a photo or ‘likes’ another user’s content during work hours runs the risk of being ‘seen’ online by their boss or another work colleague. It is common sense that you should not make yourself known on social media if you are not meant to be using it at that moment in time! However, some users may not realise that certain social media sites, such as Facebook, automatically display when the user was last online. Therefore the user may, unbeknown to them, still make themself visible on social media if they log on during the working day; regardless of whether they actually comment or interact with others.

2. Bad mouthing your job

Things get even more serious when employees take to social media to vent their frustration over their employer or about their job. Most employers now have a social media clause in their contracts which states that an employee must not discuss any work related business online. In 2008, Virgin airlines fired 13 cabin crew after they posted social media messages which “brought the company into disrepute”.

This next example has become a bit of an urban legend online, and true or not, it illustrates the point perfectly: girl sacked after calling her employer a pervy w*nker on Facebook!

Likewise, this girl was fired after complaining that her job was boring and it will come as no surprise that this teacher who used social media to joke that she should drown her students and commented that she “hated their guts” was fired after her employers found out!

3. Sharing confidential information

More problems arise when user divulge personal or confidential information online. An extreme example of this is the juror who used a Facebook poll to decide which way a child abduction and sexual assault court case should go!

Health care professionals have also fallen foul of this mistake, for example this doctor was reprimanded after she revealed patient information online, and last year eight members of staff were dismissed by the Nottingham University Hospitals Trust after breaching patient confidentiality, including one nurse who uploaded a photo of a patient to Facebook.

4. Uploading embarrassing or inappropriate content

Embarrassing or inappropriate content may be an employees downfall, for example photographs that show the user taking illegal substances, or behaving badly while drunk and in a state of undress; Or perhaps the racist/sexist/ageist/homophobic status or joke that they chose to share. Inappropriate content may lead existing employers to decide that an individual is portraying their business in a bad light or is not the most responsible candidate for promotion to a superior role. Likewise, potential employers may vet prospective employees based on their social media profiles. It has been estimated that the number of employers using social media to vet job applicants may be as high at 91%!Β  Therefore a poorly managed social media profile could act as the worst reference ever.

This woman found out the hard way when she was fired over a photograph which portrayed her being disrespectful towards the tomb of a soldier in the Arlington National Cemetery. Likewise, this bartenders inappropriate racist rant cost her job.

Controversially, this gay water polo coach was fired after complaints about his personal photos which included him pictured next to two drag queens (big deal, right?) and about to ‘eat a corn dog’ (presumably implying that the photo was suggestive… but is this really enough to deem someone not suitable for their job as a water polo coach?). Another controversial story is the teacher who was allegedly fired because a parent complained about her holiday photos on Facebook which showed her holding a glass of wine and a pint of beer!

5. Not being careful what you ‘like’

One last tip…

Pages that you ‘like’ on Facebook often show up in your ‘friends’ newsfeeds (and other social media sites often function in a similar way). So perhaps you’ll think twice next time you add your boss to Facebook and then like the ‘busty housewives’ page…

The moral of the story?

I am not suggesting that social media should not be fun or that you always have to be 110% professional at all times. However, you should take time to define exactly who your audience is on each of your social media accounts and act appropriately. If Facebook is strictly for your closest friends and family then make sure your privacy settings reflect this! Also, do not allow privacy settings to lull you into a false sense of security, they are not fool proof, for example your content can be shared by others and this then moves outside of your circle of control; so although privacy settings are important and they do protect you to an extent, you should still refrain from posting potentially damaging material.

When it comes to posting on social media – If in doubt, leave it out!

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11 responses to “Fired via Facebook: Five social media mistakes to avoid!

  1. Sometimes you realize people just don’t think when it comes to posting on Facebook. I knew someone who used to complain about her job all of the time and then was surprised she was let go. Really?

  2. The real moral of the story? Start your own business so you don’t have to worry about petty people judging you over a glass of wine or having fun. Some people try to block their bosses and co-workers and even set their accounts to private, but if HR wants to find you online, they will.

  3. People really should learn some discretion, especially now that once it is cyberspace, it is there for a long, long time. Use of the internet in work time without specific permission of the employer actually constitutes theft – in my view at least. You are stealing time which is not your own while you are in the office. Many people would say that is rather pedantic but if you think about it then it is true.

    • Interesting point Charlie, I would suspect that the majority of employers may not be too happy about staff using social media and may take a stern approach to employees who access it during work time!

      Likewise, I agree that users need to be made aware of the need for discretion when they are posting information online.

  4. When I first began reading this post, my thought was that if an employee wanted to visit Facebook during work hours, then they should use their iPhone/smartphone. I suppose that would be unwise since Facebook indicates when a person last visited–I was unaware of that feature. Although I am self-employed, I am still careful of what I post on Facebook…someone is always watching.

    Rachel recently posted What Chains Are Holding You Back?

  5. Love your advice “if in doubt,leave it out”. I am constantly amazed when people post their itinerary or give a blow by blow of their day. Great post! Thanks for sharing!

  6. At my old job, most sites were blocked on the server, which eliminated any potential “problems.” I prefer not to have a boss, and then I don’t have to worry about what sites I’m going on. πŸ™‚
    I’ve never badmouthed a boss; I don’t see the point. When I had an issue, I went straight to the boss, and politely told them my problem. I was never the “teacher’s pet.” And the idea of uploading inappropriate pictures just makes me laugh. I just don’t take inappropriate pictures, and that solves the problem.

    I love your posts Dawn!

    • Thank you for your positive comments Keri, I’m delighted that you have been enjoying the posts πŸ™‚

      I agree, I’ve always wondered why people would take inappropriate photos regardless of whether these are being shared offline or online. Surely it is just not worth the risk? Although clearly some may disagree with me on that!

      Although, I guess when you start extending the classification of ‘inappropriate’ photos to more innocent situations, e.g., a photo of someone drinking, as in the aforementioned case with the teacher where she is simply holding a glass of shandy or lager whilst on holiday then I could be guilty of that! In my mind that should not be regarded as inappropriate (providing the individual is of legal drinking age of course!) and if the teacher did actually lose her job simply because she was photographed on holiday holding a drink then I personally think that was taking things too far (of course, we have to remain aware that the media may not be portraying the full facts with that story).

      Thanks for sharing your comments πŸ™‚

  7. Pingback: The Online Disinhibition Effect: Why some people reveal too much online?! | The Cyber Psyche·

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