Friday, April 04, 2014

Can You Criticise Your Boss on Twitter and Keep your Job?

was interviewed yesterday by the Metro free newspaper on this point, following the onlineprotest tweets by many Mozilla employees in the US that they did not want a boss who had donated money to an anti-gay marriage fighting fund. In the US where freedom of speech is prized, employees not only successfully ousted their new boss,  but kept their jobs. In the UK, it might have gone the other way, with disconduct proceedings or dismissal not impossible!  The Metro were keen on me making a blanket statement that you either were or weren't sacked if you dissed your booss online but Pangloss was not so foolish. Instead I advised users out there not to vent about their work on open to air Twitter accounts but to save it for Friends locked Facebook, and if possible, to make sure you trusted everyone on that Friends list (including fellow workers who might clipe on you – or move them to a special no-read-work-stuff  list). 

  Think about putting a disclaimer on your Twitter account that your tweets are not those of  your employers, and even then, if possible avoid defamation, racist or hate speech or harassment, especially of co-workers. Remember the fate of the specially appointed 17 year old youth Police Commissioner who lost her £15K a year  job when the press started looking at her racist tweets! (Pangloss herself just went and guiltily put a long overdue disclaimer on her public Twitter feed @lilianedwards (to which co-writer Dr Ian Brown of the OII, said, what, would ANYONE EVAH think I represent the views of the University of Oxford? Only the employment tribunals , I replied..)

 For employers, be absolutely sure to have a fair and balanced Acceptable Use of Social Media policy in place; courts have already refused to back the sacking of a housing trust manager who made derogatory comments about gay marriage (again! Just avoid the topic online perhaps) when the in-house policy did not clearly tell him not to do this. Blanket policies forbidding all use of social media are also likely to be disregarded by the courts, since they ignore fundamental rights of freedom of expression and private life. Some professions have particular difficulties about giving away details of the job on Twitter or FB - try looking at ACPO's heavyweight guidance on use of social media for the police, for example.

 Pangloss coincidentally had been writing (as usual) an overlong tome with @mooseabyte on police surveillance of social media when the Metro rang,  and it has certainly opened her already jaundiced eyes. Absolutely everyone using public social media should always be aware that while  it may feel like only you and your mates care about what you had for breakfast,  in fact 100s if not 1000s of people may be listening to , monitoring and data mining you – including not only those who pay per tweet to attach the Twitter data firehose to their Hadoop servers, but , increasingly , the police. SOCMINT - social media intelligence - is the shiniest thing on the block and as yet the general consensus seems to be that anything that is said on unlocked social media, however small the intended audienbce, is fair game for the Old Bill. In fact the legal situatuion is a bit more uncertain, with recent ECHR case law pointing to the existnece of  areasonable expectation of privacy even in public spaces - which seems to apply by extension to things said or done on public social media. A rather more nuanced treatment of the subject can be found in the recent Demos report  on how police may sometimes need covert surveillance authorisation - eg when constructing fake profiles to gain access to locked profiles on facebook - but for an even more critical perspective , await Lachlan and my paper at the SSN Conf in sunny Barcelona!

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