This video provides an introduction to the relationship between free speech and social media.
“Context is everything” – Director of Public Prosecutions.
As social media becomes increasingly prominent, the boundary between an individual’s professional and social life becomes gradually blurred. In Topic 3, I discussed how, depending on content, the use of social media platforms by employers and potential employees could either increase or decrease job prospects. However, it is important to highlight that once you have a job, the use of social media by both these parties does not cease.
Social media can be an effective and cheap platform for mass marketing however; it can also manufacture ethical challenges. Employees’ personal opinions in relation to the company they work for, expressed through platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, tend to place companies in a difficult position – they are required to permit free speech but must also maintain a good reputation.
After a long day at work, having dealt with miserable customers and not being paid nearly enough for all the hassle, sometimes you have to vent – for some, their first port of call is Facebook. However, as soon as you mention your employer or company name you become responsible for libel defamation. Ideally, companies would monitor their employees’ use of social media in order to prevent this. However ethically, this is challenging without limiting their freedom of speech (IBE, 2011).
Though in the past libel defamation was more frequent in newspapers, it is becoming increasingly present on social media platforms. The video below highlights the gravity of what at the time seemed like a menial tweet.
In the UK the Smith vs. Trafford Housing Trust case, Smith was demoted for his Facebook comments against gay marriage (Henchoz, 2012). As his Facebook page referred to him as an employee of the Trust, other employees as well as individuals on his friends list could see his post. This led to the Trust claiming that his actions brought them into disrepute, despite his post being unrelated to the Trust and written outside work hours (HRLaw, 2015). Though Smith won his case, it highlights that even with adequate privacy settings, you can never be certain whether or not your employer can see what you post.
Like individuals, companies want to protect their image and reputation. This often results in companies having to develop policies that attempt to control content and restrict employees’ use of social media (Myers, 2013). However, is it ethical to enforce these policies outside working hours? – There is a fine line between monitoring and controlling free speech.
Henchoz, S. (2012) Social Networking: Freedom of Speech vs. Protection of Legitimate Business Interests, Accessed: March 2015.
HRLaw (2015) Status Update on Facebook: Smith v Trafford Housing and Other Tales We Like, Accessed: March 2015.
IBE (2011) The Ethical Challenges of Social Media, Accessed: March 2015.
Myers, C. (2013) Free Speech v. Social Media: Is Your Policy Legal, Accessed: March 2015.
Video1: Cracking Down on UK Social Media Free Speech – October 2012, Accessed: March 2015.
Video2: Courtney Love Wins Defamation Twitter Case – January 2014, Accessed: March 2015.