Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Anderson today explores people getting fired for personal online (esp. Facebook) "paranormal activity"


The Anderson Cooper show today leads off with the byline “Should you be fired for your personal life?”, subject of a similar story in CNBC last week (my IT blog, Feb. 28). But it really was about being fired for personal online activity that is unbecoming the job and becomes known to other stakeholders of the employer.

The show presented several cases, described at this link. One teacher was fired for thoughtless remarks she made on Facebook on the day of a field trip tragedy. She says she made the posting in anger to a limited list of friends and deleted it in a few days. Nevertheless, a few months later the posting surfaced with school officials.  Another woman was removed from a volunteer position with Girl Scouts in Wisconsin after an email with a signature macro that contained a link to a site inappropriate for the circumstances.  It has been a controversy in other areas of law whether linking to an infringing site could itself be infringement.

The CNN legal advisor said that employers old the cards in these situations, because there really is no expectation of privacy online.  Your behavior online could be viewed implicitly as having occurred within the workplace because customers or students may eventually find it, even if it is limited to “friends” at first.  85% of employers now to “online background investigations”.

Shawn Edginton, (author of “The Parents’ Guide to Texting, Facebook, and Social Media” (Brown Books, 2011)), also appeared to give the “don’t’s” for personal media and the workplace. One “do” is to be careful about “tone” and “context”.

People were sometimes getting fired over blog content (criticizing the boss, even without names) before social media came along. Heather Armstrong's history led to the creation of the very "to dooce" in 2002, and that's the name of her famous mommy blog that made her family well-to-do after her termination. 

As I’ve related here, I had my own incident as a substitute teacher in 2005 (details on July 27, 2007 here).  I came from the Web 1.0 world where the basic problem with self-publishing was more that of the book world, potential “conflict of interest” and back in the 1990s had to deal with this as I was writing a book about gays in the military.  I had previously, like around 2000, written that managers or permanent teachers (who can grade students) should not express their opinions in “public mode” online about things because they could create a hostile workplace problem.  But I was a sub, with no authority and little pay. I still got into trouble.  I did get the job back, but decided not to continue toward a teaching license (for math – in demand) because of the inherent conflict with my expressive life. 

A distantly related posting today was about “getting your mother to stop blogging about your life” on her Mommy blog, link (on WikiHow) here. What about the reverse, when kids blog about their parents?  I was very careful with this matter with my mother's eldercare until she passed away, because I could have jeopardized her care. 

 Picture: from the SLDN dinner in Washington DC, March 3, 2012; my name is first on there as an individual contributor.  But there was a time that this could have created a legal workplace conflict for me. 

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