Sunday, June 27, 2010

Freedom of InterSpeech

Alright, so this constant monitoring by employers into the social networking sites of their employees is beginning to feel a bit like McCarthyism, if only because they search the personal information of their employees for insubstantial things that have no real bearing on the validity of their employees’ occupation at the business, and fire them for it. Keeping a constant eye out for “subversion” or “un-business like activity” or whatever kind of policy phrases people want to use is ok I guess for big executives and assistants to big corporate players, but it’s kind of absurd when people at a day job in a corner store or a clothing store are getting fired for stuff that’s not even any kind of serious threat to the business’s image.

First, the sites like MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, as well as the blogosphere are places where individuals can freely sign up, set up a profile to connect with their own friends, and express their (emotional, physical, religious, etc.) status at the time, in their own space and leisure. It’s not something that’s funded by the business (unless that business starts to advertise one of those websites at its location) or is depended on by that business to bring in income or is connected to these things in anyway. So, there is no real reason or ownership of any content for businesses in these areas of life. The social networking sites are their own enterprises, and the individual’s expression through them are completely within the individual’s right. Their participation and expression of what’s going on in their life is its own hemisphere and separate from anything businesses should be allow to touch or monitor.

Now with that said, it’s a bit different when said hypothetical individuals act stupid and put themselves out there or do directly subversive things on purpose. But I don’t think companies, especially in these times when they possess jobs position and can easily replace anyone they don’t like for the slightest reasons (scary prospect), are too discriminatory in their judgments in what’s considered “subversive”. There was one story in someone’s comment I’ve read about a girl who worked for a popular charity and was selling the personal information of its donors to other top rival companies. Firing her is understandable. Then there are the reports of people that take pictures of themselves with some huge bag of marijuana or some sort of gleaming Smith & Wesson or whatever suggest pride in intoxicated or violent activity. Firing them is understandable. If you have an employees that post racist content against Blacks or Hispanics or Native Americans, especially while working for a company that puts “[So-and-So is an Equal Opportunity Employer. Minorities are encouraged to apply.”] in their job posts, they should definitely be fired.

But reading about a girl who was fired from her job at a pizza store because she expressed frustration at customers in her Facebook status for making her stay an hour past the time she was supposed to leave? Or about a mascot for a baseball team who was fired because he blandly criticized the team’s terrible coaches getting extended contracts? Or a girl who was fired from an administrative assistant job because she quipped in a status here and there about being bored? That is extreme, unnecessary and tyrannical. This is addition to companies who fire people because they talk online about corrupt practices the company is engaging in, instead of fixing their own morals (“we’re here to make money, right?” I can hear someone saying to me). Even the people who put posts online making fun of their bosses should be fully protected by Freedom of Speech if the post does not have a direct name or the poster’s profile does not name the company they are criticizing. There should be a new amendment to national job laws where businesses have to have tangible proof that status or a blog post online did some kind of damage to the company’s reputation or money. Otherwise, there’s no telling where the limits exist to how much employers can control their employees lives.


  1. See there's two sides to this argument.

    Before which - people who use facebook/twitter whilst at work to comment on unsuitable things have no comeback, because you're being paid to do a job, so therefore you have to think about things a bit.

    I agree that there needs to be freedom of speech - the internet is in serious danger of losing this because companies right now are becoming very litigious about libel - and anything you write about your company in a negative way is potentially libellous

    We all moan about our jobs and no company has yet sued for slander over this - but people forget that when they put things into the public domain there is the potential for unsuitable types to read it and thus bring the company into disrepute. This is one of the reasons i like to keep my photo and name off the web - because once it's there it's very hard to control who sees it

    Isn't there an argument that the person who makes racist remarks has an equal right to express these as the person who moaned about the customers? Isn't that why Public Access TV is also referred to as the Home of the unsolicitated rant?

    But at the end of the day - when you work for a company, like it or not, you are representing that company - so they may well have a right to feel upset if you go complaining about them.

    My personal feeling is people need to be thinking a bit more carefully about what and how they say it - with facebook and twitter being so popular we are the modern day journalists of the world - but that each case needs to be looked at on its own merits. Sacking someone for moaning about a customer is a bit extreme, especially if the comments were locked down to friends only etc.

  2. Don't Feed The PixiesJuly 3, 2010 at 5:19 AM

    another thing I thought about after this - say a customer walks into your shop where you work and decides to slag you off on facebook - this could affect your job and your custom. Should they have the right to do this?

  3. I think there is a limit to how much we represent the company; I'm still an individual with my own values and morals after I clock out and the company does not pay for complete control over my home life.

    Yes, the racist does have equal right to express their views. I just don't see how that would mesh with the company they work at, who is saying that they are an equal-opportunity employer that encourages minorities apply.

  4. The right being defined as freedom from the law considering it an offense? Yes. The right being defined as freedom from the company being able to pursue consequences for damages to their reputation? No.

  5. don't feed the pixiesJuly 7, 2010 at 9:37 AM

    it's an interesting debate - don't get me wrong, i think the companies are being totally over the top. Is it realistic that if i slag off my company on my facebook this will affect their reputation and standing? Probably not

    We are witnessing the end of the Golden Age of the internet my friend - the companies are getting very litigious and soon all of us could be bound by the same rules of libel that newspapers are bound by

    This is kind of what i was going on about - a newspaper couldn't get away with saying a company has poor staff regulations or conditions and increasingly we live on the internet, which has turned us all into journalists

    So i think there is an argument that we need to censor ourselves a bit - what surprises me is how much information people are preparared to put out there about themselves and their lives. It's only going to take one person on facebook to sue a friend for publishing an unflattering photo and the floodgates will open


What's your beef, sports fan?