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In the modern social media-aware world we live in, it's important to remember that what you have intended to be taken as a joke or light-hearted sarcasm on Twitter or Facebook may not be interpreted as such, and your words could have consequences beyond what you initially intended.
In the modern social media-aware world we live in, it's important to remember that what you have intended to be taken as a joke or light-hearted sarcasm on Twitter or Facebook may not be interpreted as such, and your words could have consequences beyond what you initially intended.

Social Media and the “Cloak of Invisibility”

It almost seems to be a weekly occurrence that some celebrity, politician or sports star is putting their reputation, or career at risk with some ill-advised comment on one social network site or another.

Freedom of speech is one thing, but as many have realised, it isn’t always free of consequence. I am sure we can all bring to mind stories where comments on Twitter have resulted in major headlines, resignations, suspensions, fines and threats of legal action. For instance, in 2010, Labour candidate Stuart MacLennan was removed from standing because of a number of tweets where he referred to old people as coffin dodgers, and insulted David Cameron and Nick Clegg. The icing on the cake was this particular tweet:

God this fair-trade, organic banana is s**t. Can I have a slave-grown, chemically enhanced, genetically modified one please?

Was he being serious? I very much doubt it, but humour can easily be lost in 140 characters and what is funny to one person could be offensive to another!

As for sportsmen, you could probably write a whole book on Joey Barton with his almost constant use of Twitter to pick fights, insult people and vent his frustrations with his employers. But he certainly isn’t the only one to do this, and the ‘inappropriate’ use of Twitter is by no means confined to those who live their life in the spotlight.

Twitter Twubble

In the modern social media-aware world we live in, it’s important to remember that what you have intended to be taken as a joke or light-hearted sarcasm on Twitter or Facebook may not be interpreted as such, and your words could have consequences beyond what you initially intended.

Take the case of Paul Chambers, who had his conviction overturned after he “threatened” to blow up Robin Hood Airport because they had closed due to snow. His actual tweet that landed him in hot water was:

Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your s**t together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!

It would have meant he couldn’t see his girlfriend had the airport remained closed, but the tweet was picked up by the duty manager responsible for security and, without the context, acted upon. Another joke? Of course, but it is a warning that what you post is there for the world to be read and their interpretation may not be the one you had intended.

“But what has this got to do with recruitment?”, I hear you ask. Well, Twitter and Facebook have millions of users (there are over 10 million Twitter users in the UK alone), so once your Tweet is out there, it could be very difficult to backtrack. With this in mind, it is advisable to be very careful about what you post. It’s not unusual, and it is becoming much more commonplace, for companies to regularly monitor the social network sites just to see what is being said about them, pick up on public perception and even look into the online life of potential candidates (a very common practice in the USA).

There is also the case of Connor Riley, who was made a job offer and subsequently posted the following Tweet.

Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty pay check against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work.”

Possibly posted with the tongue firmly in the cheek, but that certainly isn’t evident in black & white. In case you are wondering what the outcome was, the Tweet was seen by someone at Cisco, the offer was withdrawn and the candidate no longer had a difficult decision to make. That’s the sort of thing that could only happen in the USA, right? Unfortunately, that isn’t the case at all. I have experienced an almost identical scenario right here in the UK, where the client was routinely monitoring social media, the candidate I had “placed” was tweeting in relation to the recent offer/role, the tweets were picked up, deemed inappropriate and following investigations with the candidate, the offer was withdrawn.

Obviously there is some learning to be taken from these examples, primarily that the lines between your personal/online life and your work life are becoming much more blurred. And this is as a direct result of our explosion in the use of the various forms of social media. But you need to be aware of (and always remain aware of) what you are putting out there because, regardless of your privacy setting or how many “friends”/”followers” you may have, there is the potential for a much wider audience than you may have anticipated. Also: remember what you have intended to be taken as a joke or light-hearted sarcasm may not be interpreted as such, and your words could have consequences beyond what you initially intended.

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About Steve Trippier

Steve Trippier
Steve Trippier is a consultant at Arras People with a previous career in project management within the telecoms sector. Check out all of his contributions to How to Manage a Camel here, and sign up for a Project Management Careers Clinic with Steve today.

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