We see more and more employees getting into trouble for posts they have made on social media.
The question is: Are employees then not entitled to their personal views and freedom of speech? The answer is not so simple. Let’s look at an example. I’ll use myself. I am a director at a large law firm. I have various social media accounts, which I use for different purposes.
I use LinkedIn and Twitter for professional purposes (things like networking, reading the news and research). I am connected with many people I do not know personally.
The purpose of these accounts is clear and I post accordingly.
I also have a Facebook account, which I see as personal and I only connect with friends and family.
So, I use Facebook for my personal thoughts and likes and dislikes, which I share with my friends and family. It is therefore private… right?
There are two problems with this line of thinking.
1. The network effect. It may be a private thought, but I share it with my 100 friends, who “like” my post, so their 100 friends can now see it and then their 100 friends and soon a million people saw my private thought, which is now not so private any more.
2. Association. As a director of a company (or even an employee) I am inevitably linked to the image of that company.
I can state “these are my personal views”, but if I make a controversial statement, does it not indicate the mentality of the people who work at or manage the company that appointed me?
Where is the line between my personal and professional thoughts then? I think in some instances there simply cannot be one.
I don’t believe there is such a thing as “private” on the internet and definitely not on social media. What you say is public, it is in writing and it is there for everyone to see.
The good old saying: “Think before you speak” is just as applicable online – think before you post!
There can be many serious consequences to your posts on social media. We frequently hear of defamation, harassment and cyber bullying, but it is just as easy to commit a breach of contract or even an act that can be seen as insider trading over social media.
Social media is here to stay; as an employer you cannot prevent your employees from using it, but you can provide them with guidelines.
It is important for employers to have proper social media policies in place and to provide training to ensure that everyone, including management, understands the risks and consequences of posting on social media.
That’s just my personal view.
* Wilmari Strachan is director and head of technology and internet practice area at Werksmans Attorneys.