What you say and do on social media can affect your employment; it can prevent you from being hired, hinder career advancement and can even fire you. Is it fair – or a violation of privacy?
Our recent research involved a study of 312 news reports about people being fired for social media posting.
These include stories about posts people have made themselves, such as a teacher being fired after coming out as bisexual on Instagram, or a retail employee who posted a racist post on Facebook.
It also included stories about posts made by others, such as videos of police engaging in racial profiling (which led to their dismissal).
Racism was the most common reason people were fired in these news reports, with 28% of stories specifically related to racism. Other forms of discriminatory behavior were sometimes involved, such as queer phobia and misogyny (7%); workplace conflict (17%); offensive content such as “bad jokes” and insensitive posts (16%); acts of violence and abuse (8%); and “political content” (5%).
We also found that these news reports focused on cases of people being fired with high levels of responsibility and scrutiny from positions facing the public. This included police / law enforcement (20%), teachers (8%), media workers (8%), medical professionals (7%) and government workers (3%), as well as workers in service roles such as hospitality and retail (13%).
Social media is a double-edged sword. It can be used to hold people accountable for discriminatory views, comments or actions. But our study also raised important questions about privacy, common HR practices and how employers use social media to make decisions about their staff.
Young people in particular are expected to navigate social media usage (documenting their lives, hanging out with friends, and engaging in self-expression) with the threat of future reputational damage at hand.
Read more: Doxxing, swatting and the new trends in online harassment
Are all online placements fair game?
Many believe people should just accept the reality that what you say and do on social media can be used against you.
And that one should only post content that they would not mind seeing their boss (or potential boss).
But to what extent should employers and recruitment managers respect the privacy of employees, and not use personal social media to make employment decisions?
Or is everything “fair game” in making appointment and dismissal decisions?
On the one hand, the ability to use social media to hold certain people (such as police and politicians) accountable for what they say and do can be extremely valuable to democracy and society.
Powerful social movements like #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter used social media to evoke structural social problems and individual bad actors.
On the other hand, when everyday people lose their jobs (or are not hired in the first place) because they are LGBTQ +, post a photo of themselves in a bikini, or because they complain about clients in private spaces (all stories ) from our study), the boundary between professional and private lives has blurred.
Cell phones, emails, work from home, highly competitive job markets and the intertwining of “work” with “identity” all serve to blur this line.
Some workers need to develop their own strategies and tactics, such as not making friends or following co-workers on some social media (which can lead to stress on their own).
And even when one derives joy and fulfillment from work, we must expect certain boundaries to be respected.
Employers, HR workers and managers need to think carefully about the boundaries between professional and personal lives; the use of social media in employment decisions can be more complicated than it seems.
A ‘hidden curriculum of supervision’
When people feel that they are being monitored by employers (current, or imaginary futures) when using social media, it creates a “hidden curriculum of supervision”. Especially for young people, it can be harmful and inhibitory.
This hidden curriculum of supervision works to produce satisfying, self-governing citizen employees. They are often forced to put together highly sterile representations of their lives on social media, always under threat of job condemnation.
At the same time, this very social media has a clear and productive role in exposing violations of power. Bad behavior, misconduct, racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia and other forms of fanaticism, harassment and violence have all been exposed by social media.
So, then, this oversight can be both bad and good – intrusive in some cases and for some people (especially young people whose digitally-mediated lives are governed by this prism of future impact), but also liberating and enabling justice, accountability and transparency in other scenarios and for other actors.
Social media can be an effective way for people to find work, for employers to find employees, to offer professional profiles on sites like LinkedIn or portfolios of work on platforms like Instagram, but it can also be personal spaces, even when they are not set. to private.
How we strike the right balance between using social media to hold people accountable for the risk of invading people’s privacy, of course, depends on the context, and ultimately on power.
Read more: As the use of digital platforms increases, we will need stronger global efforts to protect human rights online