Friday, 27 February 2009

Facebook commenting could get you fired

Yep, over on the BBC News website I happened across the headline "Facebook remark teenager is fired". 16-year-old Kimberly Swann from Essex described her job as "boring" on her Facebook page - it's not clear from the article there whether or not this was a status update or something she had added to her profile.

In any case, the remark got her fired. You can read the article yourself of course; what I thought was interesting about it was the contrast in attitudes towards Swann's comment and towards social networking in general.

The report gives two points of view. Steve Ivell of Ivell Marketing & Logistics in Clacton justifies the company's decision to sack Swann with this:
Had Miss Swann put up a poster on the staff notice board making the same comments and invited other staff to read it there would have been the same result.
While TUC general secretary Brendan Barber had a different attitude:
Most employers wouldn't dream of following their staff down the pub to see if they were sounding off about work to their friends.
Note the contrasting metaphors. The boss sees the social networking site as a noticeboard - note that his problem is not even that the site is online and the comment potentially a public one. While the union secretary sees the site as providing something akin to a chat down the pub, a facilitator for the comraderie colleagues may feel when complaining about work.

So, would the boss object to his employees complaining about work down the pub? Probably. But it's out of his ability to control this and it would be unreasonable for him to fire someone on the basis of something overheard outside of the work environment. His choice of metaphor - the noticeboard within the workplace - makes the action seem more justifiable since he makes it sound as though something within the workplace has been disrupted.

So which metaphor is closer? And were the company right in sacking her?

1 comment:

Mike Roch said...

I think the key question here is the linkage (if any) between the individual posting a comment and the organisation being commented upon.

If someone moans about their employer, who remains unidentified, then it feels like moaning at the pub. If they identify their employer however, then it feels more like defamation.

In the case of Facebook in particular, the university or employer often forms the basis of the network or group an individual belongs to, so almost any observation may be linked by a reader to that organisation. This is not true with most Web2.0 environments (eg this one) as no-one knows who you or I work for!