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Social-media policies: You can't say that!

Evan Schuman | July 1, 2015
Most companies' social media policies, if they exist at all, are highly inadequate, outdated or both.

social media

Most companies' social media policies, if they exist at all, are highly inadequate, outdated or both.

What I am talking about are policies that lay out for employees the potential consequences they could face at work from things that they post on their personal and private social-media accounts. A lot of people are probably taken aback by that idea. They might understand why a policy would limit what employees say on behalf of the company, but personal opinions, posted on the employee's own time, that have nothing to do with the employer? That just seems as if it should be off-limits for corporate rule-makers.

In the real world, though, that's the way it has to be. 

The reason why is that even an employee of a household-name corporation who never in a million years would consider himself to be a representative of that corporation will become inextricably linked to it if ever he posts something on social media that gains notoriety. Say that an altogether anonymous fellow in Seattle makes a racially insensitive comment on Twitter that causes a stir. When headlines start getting written about him, they are probably going to ID him, not as a father of two or a churchgoing volunteer, but as a Boeing security guard, an Amazon executive or a McDonald's cook. That isn't fair, but it's reality. 

So policies have to warn employees that they could face dismissal if they do something that brings opprobrium upon the corporate identity. And those policies have to warn employees that it's up to them to make sure that the comments they make on social media are free of ambiguity and vagueness. Because if there has ever been a medium that is a magnet for misunderstood, vague quips, it's social media.

An example of what I'm talking about cropped up last week, in the wake of the horrific Charleston church murder spree. A Texas firefighter (and, yes, he was routinely referred to as a Texas firefighter, even though neither his comment nor his self-identification had anything to do with fighting fires) made a comment on a newspaper's Facebook account in a thread on the domestic terror attack: "He needs to be praised for the good deed he has done." His governmental employer fired him, having interpreted "he" as referring to the murderer. Not so, countered the firefighter, who said his comment was a response to another comment. "When I was looking at the threads and, you know, I was just reading down and there was a person there that posted, was donating a large sum of money to the victims," the firefighter said, "so I just said This person ought to be praised for his good deed.'"


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