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Think Before You Tweet

Managing Social Media Profiles: Ethical Guidelines

I have previously blogged about the dangers of posting information critical of one's employer on social media sites including the regulations under the National Labor Relations Act. The Act protects the rights of employees to act together to address conditions at work, with or without a union.

The protection extends to certain work-related conversations conducted on social media, such as Facebook and Twitter. Employees who act together on workplace issues – by, for example, meeting with a manager to lobby for better benefits or having a group discussion about the company’s safety record – are protected from employer retaliation

A protected activity is one that is involves a concerted effort expressing more than one employee’s concerns. An employee who complains about his or her own performance evaluation is not taking concerted action. But an employee who complains, after consulting with or on behalf of coworkers, that the company’s performance evaluation system unfairly penalizes employees who speak up in safety meetings is engaged in concerted action.

As the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) puts it, “personal gripes” are not protected. Even if employees are clearly acting in a concerted way, they won’t be protected if they cross the line from constructive behavior to malicious or reckless actions.

The warning signs for posting information on social media are more basic. According to the Center for School, College and Career Resources (CSCCR),there are 10 areas where college students make mistakes on social media.

  • Not using privacy settings.

  • Trusting privacy settings.

  • Posting questionable photos.

  • Using poor grammar.

  • Complaining about your current job.

  • Retweeting/posting inappropriate materials.

  • Complaining about professors/peers.

  • Sharing confidential information.

  • Discussing taboo topics.

  • Not using social media enough.

These topics are discussed in greater depth on the CSCCR website. But here are some basic ethical guidelines when using social media.

  • Think before you post anything on social media. For the most part, your post will be forever available to anyone looking for information about you. I call this the Trump Twitter Rule.

  • Ask yourself: How will I feel if my post winds up on the front page of tomorrow's newspaper. Would I be proud of it; ashamed; or head for the hills?

  • Apply the Golden Rule: Treat (or Tweet) others the way you want to be treated.

  • Send the post to yourself prior to publishing it. Read it over carefully. If it's a volatile post, sleep on it and get back to the post the next day. Do you still want to publish it?

  • Consider talking to or meeting with the person you are addressing in your post. Oftentimes, statements you might make on social media are not made in a more interpersonal setting because of the direct contact.

Many people hide behind their electronic devices and say whatever crosses their mind. They say things that never would be said face-to-face. Unfortunately, we have become an impersonal society and lots get said on social media that become controversial, in a negative way, and it's out there forever. Once again, think of the Trump effect.

The underlying ethical value of posting information, pictures, and critical statements about others online is to act with civility. Unfortunately, again, this seems to be a lost art in our hyper-electronically-charged society. We hear and see folks from virtually every walk of life behaving badly and its colors what we say and do online.

My advice: Take the ethical high road whenever you can. Be respectful of others. Deal with conflict one-on-one. It won't help you to broadcast your grievances to everyone and you never know when it will come back and bite you on the you know what.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on November 9, 2017. Dr. Mintz is a Professor Emeritus from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Visit his website for additional information about his services.

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