Is It Ethical for Employers to Monitor Your Social Media?

Is It Ethical for Employers to Monitor Your Social Media

With reports of people being fired over their social media posts going viral, we wonder if it’s really worth putting your whole life online. Read on!

“Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” reads the tweet of Justine Sacco, the dismissed Public Relations executive of New York-Based holding company InterActiveCorp (IAC). This tweet may be old, but it makes a case for social media monitoring by employers. After all, employees are mouthpieces of a company, and what they say can shape the image of a company.

Social media has changed the way we communicate. What used to be a space for personal thoughts and opinions shared with a small group of friends is now open for anyone and everyone to see. This has led to some employers monitoring their employees’ social media accounts in order to ensure that they are not saying anything that could potentially damage the company’s reputation.

In Sacco’s case, it was effective. However, that is not always the case, especially when it might entail people getting fired or dismissed for a position based on their gender affiliations or mental health. 

The state of social media monitoring by employers

As per research on working students in the United Kingdom by Hurrell et al. (2017), 27% of participants experienced employer “disapproval” of their social media activities, and some even said that their social media use was influenced by their employers.

In fact, a 2018 Gartner report revealed that 50% of nearly 240 large corporations were monitoring their employees’ emails and social media accounts, specifically looking at who they were meeting and how they utilized workspaces. Some even use social media to vet potential employees.

Such surveying allows employers to unfairly discriminate against certain candidates because their views might not align with the specific employer. For instance, a study by The Conversation revealed some common reasons people were fired, including queerphobia and misogyny (7%), workplace conflict (17%), offensive content such as “bad jokes” and insensitive posts (16%), acts of violence and abuse (8%) and “political content” (5%).

While some reasons are understandable, others raise some serious questions, such as how ethical this practice is. 

Should employers be allowed to review your social media?

On the one hand, you could argue that it is the employer’s right to protect their business. After all, if an employee is posting something negative about the company on social media, it could reflect poorly on the business.

On the other hand, it is also true that social media monitoring can be viewed as a violation of an employee’s privacy. After all, what an employee posts on their personal social media account should not be the employer’s business. For instance, an employee getting fired for a body-positive photoshoot or coming out as an LGBTQ+ individual doesn’t make sense, as those events are personal experiences and should not be considered grounds for any professional repercussions.

All things considered, there are pros and cons to both sides of the argument. Here are a few things to chew over:

1. Social media is a public platform.

Let’s call a spade a spade. When you post something on social media, you are essentially making it available for anyone and everyone to see. So if you’re posting something negative about your employer on social media, it’s fair to say that they have a right to know about it.

That can also be a good thing for employees because social media movements, such as #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter, allow them to reveal structural problems and call out individual professionals, thus cementing the role of social media as a powerful professional tool.

2. Social media can be used for business purposes.

If you’re using social media to promote your company’s business or products, then they have a right to know what you’re saying. After all, they are the ones who are ultimately responsible for the business’s reputation.

3. Social media as a diary of your personal life.

If your social media life has nothing to do with your business at all, it is valid to argue that your employer has no right to monitor your activity. After all, it is your personal account and what you post should be your own business.

Where should employers draw the line?

This is a difficult question to answer. After all, every situation is different and there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

Ultimately, it’s up to the employer to decide where to draw the line. They need to consider their business’ needs and what they are hoping to achieve by monitoring their employees’ social media activity.

That said, they must be transparent with their employees about their social media policies. Employees should know what is expected of them and the consequences of violating the policy.

Last but not least, employers need to make sure that they are treating all of their employees fairly and equally. If they are singling out certain employees for monitoring while exempting others, then they will rightly be accused of discrimination.

As for jobseekers…

If you’re job hunting, it’s important to be aware of the fact that your potential employer might be monitoring your social media activity. If you are worried about an employer snooping through your social media accounts, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself:

1. Make sure your privacy settings are up-to-date.

Every social media platform has different privacy settings. Make sure you take the time to update your settings so that only people who you want to see your posts can see them.

2. Be mindful of what you post.

Even if you have strict privacy settings, it’s important to be mindful of what you post. After all, nothing is ever truly private on the internet. If you wouldn’t want your boss to see it, then don’t post it!

3. Use caution when sharing personal information.

If you’re worried about an employer snooping through your social media accounts, then use caution when sharing personal information. For instance, you might want to avoid posting your location, home address or phone number.

4. Keep your professional and personal accounts separate.

If you can, it’s a good idea to keep your professional and personal accounts separate. That way, you can control who has access to your personal account and be more selective about the information you share.

5. Know your rights.

It’s crucial to know your rights when it comes to social media monitoring. Though most states allow employers to keep tabs on their employees’ social media accounts, they cannot demand your social media login information or ask you to log into your account as they watch. 

If you’re job hunting, just be aware that your potential employer might see your social media activity. If you’re concerned about employer snooping, then consider taking the aforementioned steps to protect yourself.

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