In the wake of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, comedian Gilbert Gottfried was compelled to tweet a series of jokes about the tragedy. Aflac, the insurance giant for whom Gottfried provided the squawking voice of its iconic commercial spokes-fowl, the Aflac Duck, was anything but amused and wasted no time in firing him. This is perhaps the highest profile incident in which--for want of a better word--private musings and postings on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites, have had very public repercussions in the workplace.
There have been many variations on a story that’s almost too good to be true about a woman who posted on her Facebook page that she hated her job and her boss, to which her boss, whom she had friended(!), responded, “You…seem to have forgotten that you have 2 weeks left on your 6 month trial period. Don’t bother coming in tomorrow.”
Other incidents have generated debate over First Amendment and privacy issues. A Philadelphia teacher was recently suspended when disparaging comments she blogged about some of her students (“I hate your kid,” “Dresses like a streetwalker,” “Stupid”) were posted on Facebook.
The law is not cut and dry, one attorney told a reporter. “She's in a gray area...she thinks she’s in a private website...she thinks it's private information, she uses it anonymously. It doesn't appear to be matters of public concern...it doesn't appear to be purely a private issue," he said.
Of the nearly 30% of households we surveyed with a net worth between $500,000 and $1 million (not including primary residence), 54% use Facebook daily. The rise of mobile technology and social media is evolving a new etiquette. To today’s tech-savvy, plugged-in, logged-on generation, former social niceties are considered as outdated as a Walkman.
Tanya Ames, lead recruiter at Creative Circle, a Chicago-based specialized staffing agency, said that job applicants think nothing of checking their cell phones or texting during interviews. One colleague, she recounted, said that someone she was interviewing tweeted about a fire drill that took place during his interview.
It’s been this way, she said, since 2007-2008. “I’m a little bit shocked they would answer their cell phone during an interview,” she said. “I wouldn’t say it’s accepted (on our part), but more and more people think it’s okay. A lot of our candidates think that because we’re a staffing agency and not their future employer they can be a little more casual. Of course we won’t go with that candidate because we can’t take the chance of having him or her do that with an employer.”
The Internet is anonymous and it is instant. That may fuel bad or inappropriate behavior online. Some firms have added to their services a “social media audit” to prepare job applicants for Google and Facebook searches. Dan Bauer, managing director of Chicago-based The MBA Exchange, shared some social media faux pas with CNN.com. Among them: boasting on Facebook about six-figure winnings from online poker that had not declared to the IRS; generating a Tweet campaign supporting the legalization of street drugs; blogging a music playlist featuring songs with explicit lyrics, and posing for inappropriate photos in Amsterdam’s notorious red-light district.
Cell phone etiquette also seems to be endangered, according to a recent survey commissioned by Intel. Nearly all respondents said they have seen people misuse wireless technology. Three-quarters said they think mobile manners have declined in the past year. Sixty-five percent admitted they became angry when around mobile miscreants. Interestingly, only 20 percent said they had poor cell phone etiquette themselves.