We were reminded again last week of Social Media risks of old posts coming back to wreck the present. This time, a post from two years back has cost Labour MP Naz Shah a prominent role as aid to the Shadow Chancellor and has led to her having the Labour whip withdrawn. It is a story that will make many of us sit up and reassess our exposure to Social Media risks and a reminder to business that all employees that tweet or post in a professional capacity need to be given clear social media guidelines.
Social Media risks from Facebook sharing
Naz Shah’s crime was that in a Facebook post in 2014 before she became MP for Bradford West, she ‘shared’ a graphic. It showed an image of Israel’s outline superimposed onto a map of the US, under the headline “Solution for Israel-Palestine Conflict – Relocate Israel into United States”. Shah added the comment “problem solved”. For the un-initiated sharing is not the same as originating the material yourself, you are just passing on something someone else has posted, in this case with a two-word comment. There was another post that likened the Israeli policies to those of Hitler.
It is for others to comment on the offence itself but the dangers for all or any of us are clear. A moment of misjudgement or high spirits or indiscretion can come back to haunt you months or years later and turn your life upside down. Naz Shah is not alone.
In 2013 at age 17, The Kent youth PCC Paris Brown, lost her £15,000 a year job just a few days after being appointed because of tweets she had posted some time earlier. These were things she had said between the age of 14 and 16 which, it was judged, were considered racist and anti-gay. For the record, Paris Brown denied being racist or homophobic but said she had ‘fallen into the trap of behaving with bravado on social networking sites’.
To be clear we, of course, do not approve of social media being used for racist, anti-Semitic or anti-gay trolling. But we do see that this is an area of risk that is not yet fully understood and a whole minefield for businesses that are increasingly embracing social media for PR.
So what are the learning points:
Social Media risks: management for individuals
- Personal and business social media accounts need to be separated but they are still linked unless an individual clearly states that the opinions given are their own and not the views of the company.
- Before applying for a job, particularly one in the public domain, do an audit of your social media. Go back over years worth of posts and delete any that are ill-advised. Be aware that they can still exist if they have been shared or made into an untraceable image.
- If you have been an early adopter and it would be an impossible process to go back and clean up your social media trail make a note of any you regret and be prepared to answer any questions that are raised.
- Think twice before posting anything. Ask the question if my bosses read this will I still have a job or even a basic principle “will my mum be proud”?
Social Media risks: management for business
- Provide clear guidelines to anyone who uses social media about what is personal and what is business and how they are only separate if an individual clearly states that they are not representing the company.
- Provide clear guidelines about what is acceptable and what is not.
- Have in place a recovery plan and system that can swing into action if an ill-advised post or tweet is out there. Usually, this involves withdrawing the offensive post and posting an appropriate apology.
People in public life have always been held to account for earlier misjudgements. The difference today is that everyone online is in the spotlight and it’s so much easier to check a social media profile.
Social Media risks
Other examples of people caught out:
- Justine Sacco the PR officer who lost her job after tweeting an insensitive message about AIDS in Africa.
- Connor Riley inadvisedly tweeted “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.”
- Scott Bartosiewicz was a social media strategist working with Chrysler. Thinking he was signed into his own account, he accidentally tweeted a negative comment from Chrysler’s account about Detroit drivers.
Picture credit: CC by SA, Alchetron 2016