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Editorial – Being a Twit about your Career

When is free speech not quite so free?

Ask the former Google engineer who penned a memo with misogynist ideas leading to a backlash on Twitter and his rapid firing. Or the man who was fired for recommending an online discount deal from a rival butcher to his girlfriend on Facebook. Or Heather Armstrong who lost her job a few years ago after posting information about her former employer on her blog. Her advice to others using social networking to talk about their company? Don’t be stupid – or expect consequences if you anger your employer with the contents of your blog.

Living in an era when our social media posts can quickly be put on blast, where should we draw the line between sharing what’s on our mind with our online pals and followers and the rights (and wrath) of our bosses if they don’t like what we say?.

A Deloitte LLP Ethics & Workplace survey revealed that 60% of business executives believe they have a right to know how employees portray themselves and their organisations on online social networks. Unsurprisingly, employees disagree, with more than half (53%) saying that their social networking pages are none of their employer’s concern. Again, no surprises that this finding is especially true among younger workers, with 63% of 18-34-year-old respondents stating that employers have no business monitoring their online activity.

Risky Business

Employers have every business wanting to safeguard the reputation of their companies and employment tribunals have established that employers can take action to protect their business where employees overstep the mark outside of work on social media. Free speech doesn’t equal being protected from the social or business consequences of said speech when it harms your company or is out of line with their values. Indeed, one could argue that disparaging your employer while still working for them and wounding the golden goose that provides the pay cheques isn’t a particularly smart move.

But is this unfiltered information sharing willful or just thoughtless? On one hand, says the survey, one-third of employees surveyed never consider what their boss or customers might think before posting material online. Yet most of those who responded were pretty clear about the risks involved in using online social networks, as 74% of respondents believe they make it easier to damage a company's reputation.

While posting videos or observations on a social networking site is a personal decision, it can create far reaching and damning consequences for both individuals and their employers.

The explosion in social networking and the speed with which information is shared and transmitted globally leaves brands vulnerable. While posting videos or observations on a social networking site is a personal decision, it can create far reaching and damning consequences for both individuals and their employers. What might have been an impulsive disgruntled rant about an irritating manager is now circulated globally and accessible forever. Information that could be negative about a company policy or even an individual is now out there and shaping the opinion of potential recruits about the company or the person in question.

Back to the Future

Online postings can come back to haunt you and if you’re job hunting or pushing for a promotion, take note that employers commonly use search engines to look up existing and prospective employees. Pictures taken after a few pints during your student days suddenly look a lot less funny splashed across national newspapers when you are trying to be taken seriously.

While some companies have policies that require employees to identify themselves when discussing the company in any public forum (including online forums) and to notify readers that they are speaking in an individual capacity, others come down heavily on employees who post anything about their company or colleagues.

So, tweeters and posters, beware. Anything your employer deems to be slanderous, confidential, a trade secret, or intellectual property will likely land you in hot water. Posts, tweets, blogs, or even retweets that can be seen as disparaging or harassing managers or colleagues can rebound fast on the author. While being known for the company you keep matters less in your private life, as some have found to their cost, your choice of virtual friends can be your career undoing.


Founder & Managing Editor, ReConnect Africa

‘Imperfect Arrangements’ ‘From Pasta to Pigfoot’ and ‘From Pasta to Pigfoot: Second Helpings’ and the books I Want to Work in… Africa: How to Move Your Career to the World’s Most Exciting Continent’ and ‘Everyday Heroes – Learning from the Careers of Successful Black Professionals’

* This article has been updated from an earlier version

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