Employees told social media isn't private


As social media grows ever more popular, an increasing number of people are finding that it brings them into unexpected contact with the law. Lately there have been cases of employees losing their jobs for remarks posted on Facebook and Twitter, or even private text messages and emails.

The crux of the debate is over whether such communications should be considered private or public.

Fired for Facebook comments

Recently, a Belfast employment tribunal upheld a decision to dismiss a male employee following a remark on Facebook about a female colleague’s alleged promiscuity. The comment was made on the male employee’s private wall and the victim did not see it, but was told of it by friends at work.

The judge in the case held that as Facebook was visible to the public there could be no expectation of privacy.

There have been plenty of other cases in which people seem to have forgotten how public social media is. In 2009 a woman lost her job after she complained about it on Facebook. Unfortunately for her, she had added her boss as a friend and she was fired on the spot.

Even as far back as 2007 a woman faced disciplinary action at a City of London firm for accidentally sending an explicit email, intended for her husband, to the whole company.

There are also reports of organisations making pro-active use of social networks to check up on people. In the United States there have been reported instances of interviewees being asked to disclose their Facebook passwords to prospective employers and in the UK, nightclub bouncers have been known to examine smartphone accounts to check whether a person is who they say they are.

Illegal tweets

It is not just employees who have to be careful. In recent weeks there have been several instances of people finding themselves prosecuted for criminal offenses following ill-advised tweeting in violation of court orders. It is not difficult to imagine that these people could also find that their employers no longer require their services.

The justice system is keen for people to learn quickly that what they say online cannot be considered to be the equivalent of a private conversation and is likely to impose harsh penalties in order to set an example for the future.

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