Sometimes, not minding your own business online can affect your business in real life.
There are a number of cases where an individual’s social media has gotten them into trouble at work, and in some instances, even fired, which raises the debate on freedom of speech online and self-censorship.
Where do we draw the line between expressing what we want to say and holding ourselves back because our opinions, jokes or thoughts might cause offence to an unknown reader out in cyberspace and risk our livelihood? And is it fair to be fired for something that was done outside of the workplace?
Some would argue, that yes, in fact it is.
It has been drilled into me since my school days that when I would leave the school premises, I was still a representative of my school; not just because I was still in my uniform and in town after the school day had ended, but because I was a member of that organisation. To me, the same applies to where I have worked because I do take care with how I conduct myself because I myself, and consequently my behaviour, are attributed to my employer, regardless of where I am physically or digitally.
For example, Erica Escalante was fired from her internship for a racist tweet that was brought to the attention of her employer by other Twitter users. I support her dismissal in this case because it was an inexcusable, unprovoked and derogatory tweet, despite her intention to be that of a joke.
There also are examples of complete idiocy – tweeting about hating your job/boss and being let go because of it to me is simple logic: “You don’t want to work here, we’ll make that happen.”
However, there are some occasions where people read into tweets almost seeking something to cause them offence, when that was not intended or implied at all, causing the accused to lose their job.
Take for instance Damian Goddard, a sports broadcaster who was fired for sharing his political and religious opinion (that had nothing to do with sports) on Twitter. In my opinion, Goddard’s tweet was by no means offensive because it incurred no hateful vocabulary and was not targeted at anyone or any group: He was exercising his right to speak his mind in a polite manner. Regardless, he was fired. But is it really okay to fire people over a differing opinion?
It can be hard to decipher tone online which is why there are many interpretations of one message, but at the same time people tend to be over-sensitive, to the point where people don’t want to discuss anything out of fear of being hated and slated online and therefore succumb to self-censorship, which is an issue in itself because it alludes to the notion of freedom of speech diminishing, as people who hold a minority opinion feel as if they are not allowed to say it.
I think it comes down to being conscious and aware of the decisions we make online and being accountable for our actions just as we would be offline: If you don’t think it would go down too well if you said what you wanted to tweet in the office because it doesn’t align with your company’s morals, or you wouldn’t want your mother or children to read what you wrote because it’s too explicit, don’t tweet it. And if you did, delete it.
There are consequences for every action and in the age of the ever permanent and unforgiving digital footprint, you are responsible for how you represent yourself and your employer.
Have a look at this video to see what members of the public think about freedom of speech online and censorship:
Alexander, R. (2015) ‘You just published an offensive tweet to your company’s timeline, no what?’, http://deveney.com/you-just-published-an-offensive-tweet-to-your-companys-timeline-now-what/ [Accessed 24.04.2016].
Mejia, L. (2015) ‘A girl got fired from her new pizza place job before she even started – because of a tweet’, http://www.businessinsider.com/this-girl-got-fired-before-she-even-started–because-of-a-tweet-2015-2?IR=T [Accessed 24.04.2016].
Revis, L. (2015) ‘Social Media & Censorship: Freedom of Expression and Risk’, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/layla-revis/social-media-censorship-f_b_7837398.html [Accessed 24.04.2016].
Sebastian, M. (2015) ‘College Student Loses Internship Over Incredibly Racist Tweet’, http://www.cosmopolitan.com/politics/news/a48480/intern-fired-for-racist-tweet/ [Accessed 24.04.2016].
Weei (2011) ‘Mashup: Sportscaster fired over tweet’, http://www.weei.com/sports/boston/this-just-in/21101512/mashup-sportscaster-fired-over-tweet [Accessed 24.04.2016].