Since 2002 when Heather Armstrong got fired for making objectionable comments about her workplace on her blog, social media has exploded. It’s now an inescapable fact of life that we’re living in what amounts to a self-imposed surveillance state. Headed out to the store in your IDGAF comfy clothes? Don’t be surprised if you end up on People of Walmart. If you get into a barroom brawl you might see it later on Worldstar Hip-Hop. Between Twitter, Facebook, Vine, Instagram, Snapchat and the memes that accompany every news item of note, privacy is all but dead.
But for all of us who are not celebrities, the internet presence that’s attributed to you is usually of your own choosing. Unless you’re applying for a job that requires some type of government clearance, most employers are not going to go any further than a Google search and a standard background check. So if you don’t put your government name on all your social media accounts (and don’t follow/friend all your coworkers), you can maintain some level of privacy on the internet.
The National Labor Relations Board recently passed down a ruling which states that employees cannot be fired for criticizing their employer online. It’s considered protected activity. This squares with the NLRB’s general policy on social media. This doesn’t give you the all clear, though- you can still be fired for posts that are not considered protected activity (such as untrue statements about the employer, disclosure of confidential information, or racist/sexist/harassing comments that contribute to a hostile work environment). And this doesn’t take into account the ways in which your outspokenness about job conditions (or even religion or politics) may make a bad impression on your employer, leading the company to place you under scrutiny without your knowledge.
The lesson? Social media and your job don’t mix. If you’re in a creative field, then having a bold personality is part of your brand. Nobody wants a musician who is wholly without opinions, and a little controversy can differentiate a stylist or photographer from the crowd. As for the rest of us, no news is generally good news. The absence of an internet presence can scare employers off because nobody wants to hire a complete unknown. It just depends on how much you want to reveal. As a newbie lawyer, I err on the side of caution. My job is to be objective and so until I have an established track record, I’d rather not have all my opinions on display. When it comes to my job, I try not to blog, Facebook or tweet anything negative. Had a tough day at work? CALL A FRIEND. It’s highly unlikely that your BFF is going to record the conversation and send it to your boss. It’s much more likely that one of your coworkers will screenshot your complaints about your boss and save them for a rainy day.
Stay woke and remember- LOOSE LIPS EQUAL PINK SLIPS.