Social Media & Your Job: Where’s the Line?

Earlier this month, post-Presidential election, a 22 year-old—Ms. Helms—was fired by her employer, Cold Stone Creamery, after she used Twitter to say some incredibly offensive things about President Obama. Many people are applauding the employer’s decision, but for me the situation isn’t as cut-and-dry.

Helms did wrong

Although I’m sure there were many tweets around the topic—her account was closed at some point—this is the one that’s getting the most attention:

Another 4 years of this n*****. Maybe he will get assassinated this term.

Wow. Not only is this offensive and a spectacular showcase of Helms’ ignorance, it’s a great way to end up in court for threatening the most powerful man in the world.

It’s also, apparently, enough to get you fired (and featured in news segments and blogs all over the US).

Cold Stone was justified

I understand why Cold Stone took the action it did: it’s never a good idea for a brand to be associated with people who say the kinds of things Helms did. Besides the fact that her actions violated several of their policies, they needed to make it known as quickly as possible that they in no way support or agree with people who say such things.

Racism may not be dead, but companies who condone it definitely are.

The ball is rolling

I wrote awhile back (on my company’s blog) about a CFO who was fired for saying fairly innocuous things about his company’s board on his personal Twitter account.

In the wake of a deluge of post-election tweets, Jezebel writers took it upon themselves to report teens to their schools for tweeting racist statements.

And now this incident with Helms and Cold Stone Creamery.

Employees of various companies have been fired for saying stupid crap on the company’s social media channels, but the individuals mentioned above said what they said on their personal Twitter accounts.

I don’t condone racism, but I’m really not digging the Nineteen Eighty-Four feel that’s happening here.

Where’s the line?

I hate that racism exists — it’s the 21st century, we just need to get over that shit and move on. But this situation puts me in mind of the old First Amendment adage:

I might not agree with what you’re saying, but I’ll fight like hell to defend your right to say it.

People who say such rude things—especially on the Internet, where anonymity and trolls abound—have the right to say them. Is it really the responsibility of individuals (or in Jezebel’s case, a group of employees) to “tattle” on people to their employers? Do employers have the right to fire someone for something they said or did on their own time and that in no real way impacts the company?

The fact that a person is a racist will likely have no impact on their work ethic or ability to scoop ice cream.

Nothing’s black and white

There’s so much gray area with this. Social media is a brand new medium, and we’re still trying to figure out how to deal with the consequences of all this sharing.

Is it fair to individuals to have to censor themselves on their personal social media channels in order to avoid being fired? Do companies like Facebook need to simplify/clarify permissions settings so that it’s easier for people to lock down their profiles?

Is it the job of private citizens to report others to their bosses or schools for making racist/offensive statements online? Or should people say whatever they want, but be prepared for a pink slip?

Not sure if I’ve come to any conclusions here, but it feels good to get it all out. I know this is an off-topic for a book blog, but I’d love to know your thoughts. Drop me a line in the comments.

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