Recent discussion of The Hipster Grifter (via The Observer & Vice) brought up the painfully significant and recent problem of employee privacy and the internet. With such social networking sites as Facebook, Myspace, Friendster, Twitter and the popularity of online blogs we begin to wonder (or should, at least) if what we post will get us fired. Now the Hipster Grifter is an extreme case- I’m offering full leniency with employers in the case of wanted felons, molesters, heavy handed liars and convicts but what about our freedom from discrimination? Truly there is a gray area that even I’m not sure where to draw the line.
In the recent case of Carlie Christine for example, I’m a little torn. This is a cheer leading coach who posed nude for Playboy and was fired for “being a bad role model,” but guess who brought it up with the school? The parents of the girls who didn’t make the team, big surprise.
Here’s my question, how was she a bad role model to the girls who were NOT chosen to follow her? Clearly the talentless, uncoordinated or fat simply wanted vindication and their parents who had lost their chance at vicarious victory delivered the axe. It should be noted that Christine never actually encouraged any of the girls to pose nude or engage in similar behavior but on the other hand, it probably wasn’t the wisest thing to do when working for a high school. Do I believe you can be a centerfold and have a regular job where you motivate others to do their best? Absolutely. Would I necessarily want my teenage daughter doing flips and jumps for a bunch of horny jocks while being led by a Playboy model, well- honestly, probably not.
Remember, she chose to take these pictures with Playboy, the grand poobah of sexually explicit magazines. This choice makes me give her a little less credit in terms of what is fair game. Though I wouldn’t want her fired, the inner conflict in me says if I were a parent- I’d want to know.
One area I am a little less torn about is social sites meant to connect with friends. “Friends” being the operative word. Being an avid member of such communities makes me feel personally attacked when I hear of employers discriminating against people for certain pictures or statuses they find online.
There have been several recent cases in which people have been fired for their Facebook actions, here are just a few that have been making the news lately:
In one case, someone called in sick, and got fired because his status actually read that he was still drunk from the night before with plenty of sloppy pictures to prove it. Now this is a complete lack of judgement and a misuse of trust. Maybe he should have kept that one to himself.
A cheerleader for the New England Patriots was fired because she had photos on Facebook of her drawing on a friend who had passed out on the couch. Things like, “I’m a Jew” and swastikas were all over him. She says she only added to an already marked victim so what she really wrote, we’ll never know for sure.
Now, is this wrong? Yes. Sucks for him? Of course. Do we know she’s a racist? Not necessarily, we don’t know what she added and if she did write the anti-Semitic material on him, and anyway this is her friend, remember? How many of us make non-PC jokes with our friends? But the Patriot owners are members of the Anti-Defamation League so she was fired.
In another case, an intern was fired from their company after calling their job “boring”. Seriously though, maybe it was? What if the company hadn’t set up a challenging and interesting internship. Maybe the intern had another calling in life and just how many people find their job exciting every single minute of every single day? This just seems like a case of hurt pride. As long as he/she is not on company time making these proclamations, it does not seem fair to penalize them for an opinion without say, a warning or what would be even better, a solution.
I recently saw a Postsecret postcard that had a boss who found out their employee was complaining about them on their blog and was going to fire them. Now depending on the types of insults and information divulged, this could go either way with me but again, if its not done on company time and if the employee has merit and works well while on the clock, do employers really have the right to do this?
If free speech exists as a right in this country, why don’t the employers of this country recognize it too? When I began working for a very notable and very expensive jewelry manufacturer, they gave me a security agreement, I signed it, I won’t be going against it, even now. It doesn’t hurt me and in fact, I think it makes sense but to get fired for being honest about the emotional effect a job has on you seems less than fair. What’s worse and possibly the most frustrating is that people are not engaging in activities unheard of, we may be technologically advanced but when it comes to nudity, debauchery and hedonism, we’re the same as we always were but now more of us tote our cameras everywhere.
What’s probably even more disturbing about all of this is that sometimes images will end up online without our consent. It is so unfathomably easy to find yourself a victim of an online attack by another person. How many times have you found a less than flattering picture of yourself tagged and viewed before you yourself had seen it? While there are varying degrees of this from “Wow, I don’t remember that picture being taken, I look great!” to “Shit. Untag untag untag”, it’s easy to find yourself in someone else’s album, joke or “motivational poster”.
You won’t find naked pictures of me online or anything about me engaging in illegal activity, why? Simply put, these are not part of my day to day. In fact, when a job is boring, I’ll typically keep it to myself- why? Because I figure that reading about someone being bored is just as boring as living through it and my inner writer won’t allow that. These days especially, I find myself at home reading more than I’d probably like to admit it but that does not mean I don’t think this is an incredible problem with the use of Internet as a form of screening. In this case it’s not just a matter of personal choice but of the misuse of community resources.
Ideally, employers as well as employees should be able to feel confident in who they work with, employers should be understanding in knowing the limitations of human emotion while employees remain reasonably prudent with their public identities and ensuring that the professional entities with which they associate are unmarred by their personal activities (save for, perhaps “whistle blowing”).
If the examples given show anything, it is that since human curiosity will probably never be stopped from probing into the lives of our coworkers, we should at least consider our resulting actions on an objective, case to case basis. Ideally, of course. Instead it seems that these days, when life happens and your friend has a camera, all these ideas fly out the window which leaves us to question in our day to day lives, how connected should we really be?