Another day, another example of social media tomfoolery. Today, for your delight and delectation, we have the Facebook Five – a group of prison guards from New South Wales who ‘stand accused of misconduct after making disparaging remarks about their boss on the social networking site’. The full story is but a click away.
They’ve been threatened with the sack, however their union has gone to tribunal to save their jobs – the argument being that the guards were letting off steam in their own time, in a ‘private’ Facebook group, and therefore it’s simply like shooting your mouth off in the pub, which everyone does.
And that’s the nub of the matter. Recently, I copped some flack after saying that employees should not be allowed to post to social media either about their employer or on behalf of their employer. This last function should be left to qualified company spokespeople. I said that freedom of speech is not a right that an employee has on company time or when using company equipment. I went as far as to mention disciplinary action.
What I didn’t say, of course, because I took it as read, is that employees DO comment about their work, their company and their boss. Of course they do. To friends, family, colleagues and the posse down the pub. That’s a given.
However, no matter what the Facebook Five’s union official may claim, there is a massive difference between making disparaging comments down the pub and making disparaging comments in a Facebook group, even a private one.
The difference – quite obviously – is that no matter how private your Facebook group, there is a chance that someone – outside of your circle – will see it. And its content – your comments – may become a matter of public record. And, social media and the internet being what they are, your comments may attract a very wide audience.
Simply put, remarks down the pub last as long as someone’s memory of them. Comments posted to social media last forever, somewhere. Social media, the internet, is not private and no-one should regard it as such.
The New South Wales prison service should have had a social media policy – this may have acted as a deterrent. The Facebook Five, however, should have thought about what they were doing and recognised the potential consequences of their actions – and it’s for that crass stupidity that they should be fired.