Last night, News Channel 15 interviewed me for a story called “Fired over Facebook.” The gist of the story is this: after “liking” a page entitled “5 Hour Energy Sucks,” Drew Stith of Wabash was fired from his job at Living Essentials–whose products include 5 Hour Energy. My take is that while it may seem unfair for someone to get fired because of something they say or do on a social media site, it’s certainly a company’s right to take action. First of all, Indiana is an at-will employment state, which means employees can be fired for just about anything as long as the company doesn’t break the law. Furthermore, a brand is an asset, and speech by someone who works for the brand affects that asset. If an employee says something negative in a space that reaches a wide audience (e.g. Facebook), then, it’s not only permissible for the employer to know about it–it’s the employer’s responsibility to do so.
I commend the reporter who worked on the story, Elizabeth Fields, for her efforts to educate the audience about this issue and help them understand what they can do to protect themselves. And I’d like to share few tips, too, if you’re concerned that what you say and do on Facebook may come back to haunt you:
1. Know your employers’ policies. What is permitted on the job as far as social media use goes? What’s expected when you’re off the clock? The standards vary from company to company, so you need to know about your employer’s specific rules. And if your employer doesn’t have a policy in place, encourage them to establish one.
2. Review your privacy settings. When you’re on Facebook, click on “Account” in the upper-right corner and scroll down to “Privacy Settings.” Make sure you’re not sharing more than you intend to.
3. Visit ReclaimPrivacy.org to audit your Facebook profile. Even if you adjust your privacy settings, you may still be sharing posts or sensitive personal information beyond those you trust. ReclaimPrivacy.org will help you understand how to fix common profile problems.
4. Think before you post. This is the most important one. Remember, everything you share on the Internet can live on forever, even if you delete it. While social media is a great way to communicate, it’s not the only tool at your disposal. We’re all human, and we all have bad days–and talking about it can help. But if you want to vent about an employer or someone else you have a relationship with, go to lunch or call someone on the phone. Written communication–whether on Facebook, in an email, or in a printed letter–can always be copied and shared. Words–especially those spoken quietly, behind closed doors–are less likely to find their way to an audience you don’t want to include in the conversation.
While privacy is hard to come by these days, what we share–and with whom–is ultimately up to us. If it’s on the web, it can easily make its way to someone you wish hadn’t seen it. So remember what your mother told you: if you don’t have anything good to say, it may be better to say nothing at all. Especially on Facebook.