At work the last couple of days here at Olmstead Williams Communications, we’ve been having some engaging conversations about social media and how it can affect a business’ bottom line. There have been fascinating conversations, and we’ve been posing several open-ended and critical questions in regards to our philosophy and practice. Here are some of the questions we’ve been asking: “How can we measure success with social media?” “How can we approach it as a craft, a medium, a genre?” “How do we want to be received as a company, a brand, a voice through our various accounts?”
But the one questions we didn’t ask was how our rights were protected through social media? How far does our freedom of speech extend in the realms of Facebook, Twitter, and others? And can a workplace censor those ideas and opinions or hold you responsible for deprecating comments?
Well, it sure came to our attention with a great article in the New York Times by Steven Greenhouse: “Even if it Enrages Your Boss, Social Net Speech is Protected.” According to Greenhouse, “National Labor Relations Board says workers have a right to discuss work conditions freely and without fear of retribution, whether the discussion takes place at the office or on Facebook.”
This is quite a victory for free-speech advocates who believe that social media isn’t just an extension of the workplace, but a space where opinions, thoughts, and ideas are protected from censorship and fear. Of course, this is going to bring about compelling issues over branding and marketing a business’ image. Now that employees are protected under the law and can say what they want without fear of termination, does that mean employees always should speak their mind?
For example, a bartender was fired from his job, because he posted on his Facebook that he was frustrated that his bosses hadn’t given him a raise in five years. He went on a rant and called the patrons rednecks. Then there was a reporter in Tuscon, Arizona, who was fired for speaking her mind. She wrote on her Facebook that there should be more murders in the city, because she needed to have something to write about. I don’t know, but maybe they should have chosen not to say these things.
The debate has only begun. And while this recent ruling defines freedom for social-media expression, does it extend to blogs, too? Okay, companies can’t fire their employees for their posts and tweets anymore, but could they one day sue them for liable? What’s next?