SMH! I Got Fired 4 FB Posts on My Device and Off Company Time? GTG #YOLO*
By Perry Binder
*Editors’ Note: If you don’t know the abbreviations above, don’t worry – even though we work on a university campus, we had to look up some of them ourselves. Take a look at our short glossary at the end of this article.
Warren Buffett said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” People worldwide affirm that statement daily with ill-advised social media posts in their professional and personal lives.
In 2007, the infancy of social media, I opened a Facebook account. With a bit of trepidation, I asked my students to add me as a “friend,” find inappropriate online content written by griping employees, post it to my wall and discuss it in class. Since then, I created several projects to educate students on appropriate uses of social media. Recently, I published these activities in a journal article, titled “Creating Social Media Law Projects to Sensitize Business Students to Appropriate Digital Conduct.”
The article describes how social media promotes “instantaneous dissemination of thought, oftentimes without filter or reflection,” in “a participatory forum of real time information clutter.” My interactive projects are designed for students to recognize good from bad digital behavior and become 24/7 brand ambassadors for wherever they work, as well as for themselves.
For example, in “Game of Tweets,” students engaged in a virtual class session conducted on Twitter, exploring posts of online harassment, cyberbullying and improper workplace comments and photos. My ultimate goal is for students to experience the consequences of publicly displaying thoughts, highlight the importance of posting appropriate comments and be ethical digital citizens.
In a post-exercise survey, these students were asked to rate the effectiveness of the virtual class activity on what it means to be an ethical digital citizen. On a scale of 1 (not effective) to 5 (very effective), the results were 4.1. Anonymous feedback included: “I learned how to be an ethical virtual citizen while also being fun and comedic;” and “If you organize a large enough group, you can push a trend to spread awareness about anything.”
In another project, “Cyber-Libel, Cyberbullying, and Amanda Knox,” students compared Internet speech rights in the United States with European Union privacy directives, which curtail such freedom. Then they debated a series of declarations, while contrasting U.S. libel laws with Italian criminal defamation laws, by researching the lesser charges in Amanda Knox’s homicide case. Select statements included:
- Cyber-libel (false statements over social networks) should be a crime in the U.S. (Just like libel in print, it is a civil action in every state, with monetary damages and other available remedies.)
- Cyberbullying (online bullying without false statements) should be a crime in the U.S.
- Cyberbullying should not be a crime, but should be a civil action in the U.S.
- Cyberbullying should not be a crime or civil action in the U.S.
I encourage students to apply project takeaways by educating their employers on company social media policies. Many policies include a general statement that employees may not post anything negative about the company online. However, under the National Labor Relations Act, if an employee posts a comment on poor working conditions or wages in order to reach other people in the same situation, that employee may have workplace speech rights. This law even applies to “at-will” workers whose employment can be terminated at any time by employers, and highlights the importance of revising company policies.
Students need training to communicate effectively in the digital arena. It is hoped these projects give them pause to consider the consequences of their social media actions.
Perry Binder is a legal studies professor in the Risk Management & Insurance Department at Georgia State University’s J. Mack Robinson College of Business. Binder conducts social media ethics and harassment training for companies at PerryBinder.com.
To learn more about Binder’s research, visit http://www.southernlawjournal.com/2017_2/5_SLJ_Fall%202017_Binder.pdf.
A Short Glossary of Online Abbreviations
SMH: “shaking my head,” expressing disbelief, disappointment, being upset or disgust.
GTG: “got to go.”
YOLO: “you only live once.”