There have been several cases in the media recently about people being fired from their job, or kicked out of university, for what they post on social media. Many people disagree with this, citing freedom of speech. Surely one’s private opinion should not affect their employment? However, as soon as you voice your opinion on social media, it becomes public. Even if you post something on a private Facebook or Twitter account, people can share or screenshot it and it can become viral.
One recent, well-publicised case involved a girl who was expelled from the University of Alabama for posting racist videos to a private Instagram account. The videos included extremely racist and hateful language which were then shared publicly, eventually leading to her expulsion from university.
“You cannot express any opinion under the sun without consequence”
It is true that under common law, citizens have a right to freedom of expression. But this does not mean that you can express any opinion under the sun without consequence. There are many exceptions to the freedom of speech act, including threatening language, incitement to racial or religious hatred, and harassment. Language that makes people feel unsafe is not protected under the law and can be penalised. Thus, when someone posts on social media that they hate an individual because of their race/religion etc., they cannot be surprised if they get fired.
But what about being fired for posting something on social media that does not include any threatening or abusive language? Remember planking? A few years ago, there was a trend on social media where people posted pictures of themselves literally lying down on the job. Several staff from a hospital in Swindon were suspended for posting pictures of them lying down on resuscitation trolleys and even on the Heli-pad, which is a clear breach of rules.
“If you wouldn’t say something in the workplace, don’t say it online”
It seems obvious as a rule of thumb, that if you wouldn’t say or do something in front of your boss, don’t write it on a public forum where everyone could potentially see it. For example, writing a Facebook status or a tweet saying that you aren’t doing your job properly or breaking rules is surely grounds for firing. If you went up to your boss in the workplace and told them that you hate your job and aren’t working properly they would surely fire you. So why is it any different when written on social media?
When you work somewhere, you are a representative of the company and should act accordingly. If you wouldn’t say something in the workplace, don’t say it online. Using language that makes other people feel unsafe, such as threatening or racist language, would not be tolerated at work. So it should not be tolerated on social media, where the whole world can potentially see it.