Boss-bashing in the digital age

Social media Web sites open a can of worms for employee speech.

the University Daily Kansan

Last month, a group of five prison guards in New South Wales, Australia, were accused of misconduct for posting inflammatory messages about their boss on a closed Facebook group. Now, in an attempt to save their jobs, their union is taking them to court, and theyâÄôre going to fight it all the way to the Australian Industrial Relations Commission. The case raises some important questions about the use of social media such as Facebook and Twitter when it comes to the workplace. Is badmouthing your boss on Facebook no different than âÄúgetting together in a pub âĦ and bagging the boss,âÄù as a representative for the guards claimed last week in an Associated Press article by Rod McGuirk? Or is an employer within his or her bounds to fire somebody for posting negative comments in the seemingly public arena of the Internet? ItâÄôs yet another instance of how technology can complicate just as much as it can facilitate. Things used to be much simpler before the advent of the Web. The guards say they were just âÄúletting off steam.âÄù Well, back in my day, we let off steam the old- fashioned way: by vandalizing the bossâÄô car. ItâÄôs not surprising that these prison guards felt the need to kick back. After all, theyâÄôre a part of AustraliaâÄôs oldest and grandest tradition: the incarceration of criminals. ItâÄôs got to be a tough job. Unless they work at a Koala Jail. Then it would be an awesome job. A Koala Jail would definitely be the most adorable jail in the world. Sorry, Leavenworth. But regardless of how cute the inmates are or how much eucalyptus is in their diets, itâÄôs still a workplace with standards of conduct for its employees. Whether or not itâÄôs within the prisonâÄôs rights to fire the guards over something said outside of that workplace, the guards could have avoided being in that position by not posting the comments in the first place. If you wouldnâÄôt say it to your boss, donâÄôt say it in a publicly accessible and searchable forum with your name attached. ThatâÄôs the beauty of vandalism: ItâÄôs totally anonymous. ItâÄôs not just boss-bashing that can get folks in trouble online. Sometimes just leaking what the boss says off the record has consequences as well. Last week, after President Barack Obama called Kanye West a âÄújackassâÄù for his âÄòjackasseryâÄô at the VMAs, ABC reporter Terry Moran immediately posted the off-hand comment on his Twitter. The White House was not pleased âÄî even though it might be the single most popular thing Obama has said all year âÄî and Moran deleted the tweet. ABC News quickly issued an apology. ThereâÄôs something about these social-networking sites that turns off the part in our brain that makes us shut up. Sharing can quickly turn into over-sharing, and next thing you know the leader of the free world is upset with you. NobodyâÄôs safe: I canâÄôt even slash my editorâÄôs tires without somebody taking a snapshot and posting it online for the world to see. (EditorâÄôs note: I knew it!) Just because the Internet enables us to do something doesnâÄôt mean itâÄôs a good idea to do it. Some things are just better left in the pub. This column, accessed via UWire, was originally published in the University Daily Kansan at the University of Kansas. Please send comments to [email protected]