I have a friend with a history of using her social media accounts as an online diary.
When she shares her physical ailments, displeasure with her employer or anger over the actions of an acquaintance with the entire social media cosmos, I always cringe because I worry that her posts will get back to a boss or a friend who might exact some kind of punishment from her.
That’s the nature of social media.
Many of us have wished we could take back an angry text message or email, written in haste and hurt and causing trouble that demands an explanation and/or apology. And sometimes, they anger enough people that they can cost us a job, a promotion or even a friendship.
Just last month, ESPN fired former Boston Red Sox star pitcher Curt Schilling from his job as a TV baseball analyst. The reason had nothing to do with Schilling’s work in the broadcast booth. Instead, it resulted from the latest in a series of politically charged social media postings.
He shared a crude cartoon on Facebook related to the debate over which bathroom that transgendered people should be required to use. Then he wrote this: “A man is a man no matter what they call themselves. I don’t care what they are, who they sleep with, men’s room was designed for the penis, women’s not so much. Now you need laws telling us differently? Pathetic.”
ESPN didn’t like it. They have millions of viewers of every political persuasion, and they didn’t want Schilling’s comments to rile up a large chunk of that audience, potentially costing the network viewers and advertising dollars.
It wasn’t the first time Schilling had crossed a line ESPN had drawn for him (he had been suspended last summer for a Tweet about radical Islam) so they canned him for it.
He expressed surprise and then took a few shots at the network on his way out the door. Some people argued that by firing him, ESPN had violated Schilling’s right to free speech; but it is important to remember that the First Amendment provides protection from the government, not your employer.
Remember this: what you post on a social media account essentially lives forever. That is one of the many things that make digital media different from print, radio or television. And because employers jealously work to safeguard their reputations, most will not tolerate online behavior that they view as being at odds with their corporate values.
Does that restrict our personal freedoms?
Of course it does. It turns everyone who uses Twitter, Facebook and Instagram into public figures who are judged by everything they have ever said or done online. It might not be entirely fair, but that is hardly the issue if you are caught in the middle of a digital disaster of your own making.
So before you post anything to a social media feed, take a moment and think about who will be seeing it. Then remember that angry email or text message you wrote and wished you could take back.
If you have questions about social media, media relations or crisis communications, we can help.
Bob Unger is principal of Unger LeBlanc Inc. Strategic Communications. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 508-542-1252.