It’s common on Facebook: Scroll down the list of updates, and you’ll see gripes about the cubicle life. This week, I saw one friend complain about a boring conference call (while in progress) and another vent about being criticized for not being a team player.
At offices where employees have unfettered access to sites such as Facebook and MySpace, online social networking can be a fantastic time-waster. But the blending of work and personal lives on the Internet can create problems for users of these sites.
Trouble can start during a job search, and not just for applicants who jeopardize their candidacy by posting photos of last weekend’s bacchanal in view of recruiters and hiring managers. A new cautionary tale surfaced last week when a Twitter user posted an update saying: "Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work."
A Cisco employee responded: "Who is the hiring manager? I’m sure they would love to know that you will hate the work. We here at Cisco are versed in the Web."
The exchange took place in public view and was dubbed the "Cisco Fatty" incident. There’s even a Web site, CiscoFatty.com, whose subheading reads, "How to Lose a New Job with 1 Tweet." The job applicant later posted an explanation on her blog, saying her Twitter update was meant to be sarcastic and apologizing for any damage to Cisco’s image.
"There’s so many new ways to get in trouble online," said Daliah Saper, principal attorney at Saper Law Offices in Chicago. She had a client who was put on probation after a co-worker reported an indiscreet Twitter post to their supervisors.
Corporate and government scandals have shown that e-mails, far from being private correspondence, can be used as evidence. Saper noted that information published to social networking sites can be treated in the same way.
Moreover, the real-time nature of these sites compounds the potential for impulsive updates. Facebook and Twitter encourage users to continually update what they’re thinking or doing in the moment. Members don’t have to wait until they’re in front of a computer with Internet access. They can send off quick thoughts from their mobile phones while they’re at a meeting or on the road.
Many social media users, myself included, engage in a mix of work-related and personal commentary, and sign on to Facebook from both their office and home computers.
Saper pointed out that it doesn’t matter who owns the computer or whether a personal e-mail address was used to register for a social networking site. Any published content that addresses professional matters can be grounds for termination or a lawsuit if it’s considered defamatory or breaches a confidentiality agreement, for example.
"Assume you can get in trouble for everything you say," Saper said. "Err on the side of caution. … For the employee, the take-away is assume the worst and that your boss is following your tweets."
Part of the problem is that with the rapid growth of social media and evolving technology, businesses can find it difficult to establish rules for their workers’ behavior on sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Some companies may not have any mention of new media policies in their employee handbooks.
Saper’s basic advice is "always do the gut check."
The Web may hand you a bullhorn, but it doesn’t mean you should throw away your common sense.
Just ask Cisco Fatty.
© 2009, Chicago Tribune.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.