Facebook Is Not The Place To Blow Off Steam

For some reason, many people have the idea that if they use a social network or other popular website they can say whatever they want. People feel that sites like Facebook are their playground. They can talk about their employer or former employer without any recourse. People are finding out that this is not true. Steven Hodson of Inquisitr reports that Virgin Atlantic fired 13 people due to their Facebook use:

Recently there has been a bunch os folks say that corporations need to lighten up and let their servants employees waste spend company time on social media sites like Facebook. Well apparently someone forgot to send the memo though to Virgin Atlantic Airways because 13 staff found themselves fired due to some silliness they had done on Facebook.

In the quote, you will notice that Steven “crosses out” the words servants and waste. As much as Steven did this for humorous effect, but I find this interesting because people ignore these ideas. People also think that spending some time on social networks while working is not a big deal, but there are some people who spend a large portion of their work day on these sites. Of course, some sites feel this is not a problem. TechDirt calls banning facebook at work silly:

Earlier this year, we pointed out that it was silly for companies to block Facebook at work, because it’s merely a communications tool. It can be misused, but that would show up in the performance of the employee. Instead, embracing Facebook and recognizing that it’s just a communications platform — like the telephone or like email (both of which some companies wanted to ban when they first became popular), it can be a very valuable tool.

Facebook could be a valuable tool for some companies, but it really depends on what your position is and what you are saying on these networks. For a large company like Virgin Atlantic, having your own employees complain about passengers or safety standards is a very big issue. If you have your employer information on your social network profile, you must be aware of the fact that people will read what you are saying as an employee of that company. For the Virgin Atlantic example, we all know that these people are not stating the “official opinion” of the company, but if these people do interact with passengers they are definitely damaging the reputation of the company. The Inquisitr has the “money quote” from this situation:

“It is impossible for these cabin crew members to uphold [our] high standards of customer service… if they hold these views.”

You may disagree with management’s response, but let’s look at this from a different angle. If you are looking for an airline to use for a future trip, and you see that the cabin crew from Virgin Atlantic is complaining about passengers, will you book a flight on that airline? I highly doubt it.

So, in response to situations like this, many companies will ban social network sites while at the workplace. Obviously, people complain about this but are missing the real point. If you are a staff accountant, there is very little benefit to the company for you having Facebook access. If there are questions you need to find answers for, then you can email people or use a search engine. There may be sites specific to your job function that you need access to, and that should be allowed. This is a very realistic stance for larger corporations. Again, let’s look at this from a more personal angle. If you hire a plumber to fix your sink, is it OK if the plumber uses your computer and internet connection to update his Facebook status to say they are fixing your sink or even just to browse around Facebook for 15 minutes? Again, I highly doubt it. You are paying the plumber for every minute they are at your residence. You do not want to pay the plumber for playing with Facebook, do you?

When you work for someone, you are generally seen as an employee of that company. People know that you do not represent the “official opinion” of that company, but your opinions are still seen as an employee of that company. When you make comments on a site like Facebook, those comments are readily available to whoever wants to see them. On the internet, almost everything is public. If you want to blow off steam with some coworkers, go to a bar and complain at the bartender.

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13 thoughts on “Facebook Is Not The Place To Blow Off Steam

  1. This is why you use your blog, like I do, to say whatever you want. Then it’s:

    a) public to everyone, nothing’s hidden
    2) places have no excuse to ban Facebook, Google, or The Internet
    iii) you can’t be censored when you are the admin, mod, and author



  2. Kyle

    Absolutely agree. The only thing is that the employer relationship will still be there. They can always try to fire you if they do not like what you are saying on your blog. This becomes a different problem of whether the company wants to take on the PR backlash.


  3. Well you don’t go around pissing in your Wheaties. I’m not saying that.

    And if they try to fire you because you write a scathing review of a person or company, that’s unrelated to your employer, then I’d welcome that.

    Because that’s the kind of thing that’d make my day.

    Hello, Judge. I’d like to file a lawsuit, please.



  4. Kyle,

    Well, I am just trying to present all sides. I agree that if they fire a blogger for something on their blog that is completely unrelated to the company, that just invites problems.


  5. Hello,

    This is an interesting subject. And I believe every social media user should meditate on it for a while. Blogging and commenting empowers the individuals. That’s a fact. Corporations cannot control this fact. They can fire people, but that’s not what I call control. My recommendation is that companies provide decent working conditions and some lov’un care. If so, 13 employees wouldn’t feel compelled to bitch around about their workplace. To hell with corporations, we’re talking about people here AND freedom of speech (within a reasonable sense of responsability -of course-). I will ALWAYS express my feelings and thoughts, and I’ll always feel good about it, and righteous too, as long as: a) I speak truly, b) there’s a genuine message I want to transmit.

    Finally, and as an amusing suggestion related to the blowing off steam issue: How about creating a social site called http://blowoffsteam.com? A site precisely intended for people who want to, well… blow off some steam. After all, blowing off steam is a natural human emotion. People should have a place to do so. Me thinks that’d be healthy. And a place without all the bad habits too (drinking, gambling, prostitution, etc…).



  6. Guillaume,

    I wish corporations would be more proactive about things like social networks and blogging. By giving some information to employees about what the boundaries are, could be helpful. I am not against freedom of speech, but it is a matter of common sense. If you post something bad about your employer or your customers, you should expect that there will be effects from that if it is known who you work for. There are a lot of topics that people can talk about. I talk about what I do for a living sometimes, but I do not make any references to my employer or customers.


  7. @Robdiana,

    What you propose is interesting and seems like what could be a very good compromise: a contract between between the employer and the employee specifying some rules about what can be said and what not, in conversational media sites. If both agree on the contract, then it’s all valid IMH perspective. Make sure that the employees get some benefit for following the contract as they “cover the employer’s ass”.


    “What did we learn, Palmer?” said the bureau chief in the latest Coen bros film. I guess the lesson for that 21 year old is: “I shouldn’t party too hard if I’ve got to go to work next morning”. I don’t think he should have refrained himself from confessing in facebook. I also believe people shouldn’t give him too much a hard time for that episode. He got punished. He’s forgivable. IMO It’d be a better world if people would learn some lessons, then be corrected, and then be forgiven; rather than trying to save their asses through lies and hypocrisies. That said, I too sometimes have a hard time finding the guts to stick with honesty. But I don’t give up.


    Tough luck. I hope you got a new job meanwhile. If freedom of speech is something you hold dearly, then I hope you won’t refrain yourself from expressing yourself.
    It’s not the first time I hear Apple does this to their employees. I really think Apple employees you should ask more benefits and some clear rules about dealing with conversational media sites.

    I’m afraid I won’t be able to follow this stream much longer… Nice chatting. Important issue. Cheers.


  8. Anyone writing anything on the net’ should be aware that with spiders, twitters and goodness knows what else, your every comments can be seen. In general, I agree that you should never comment publicly about your company, unless you want to be asked to leave – sooner or later… I do however have a query where it comes to Facebook. My impression was that it was for ‘friends’. No-connected people should not be able to see your comments, which leaves me wondering if one of these people’s ‘friends’ actually broadcast the comments because they thought it was ‘a hoot’. Cautionary tale – don’t write defamatory material on the net and be sure that you know who your friends are…


  9. @Guillaume

    Many companies have started to create blogging policies. Of course, this is still a little behind the curve as we now need Twitter and social networks to be addressed as well. Also, don’t worry about not following the conversation, people drift in and out all the time.


    I am not sure about specifics, but if there is a facebook group for Virgin Atlantic, it is possible that someone even reported the “chatter” to someone in management. Even though the conversation was within a group, does not mean that only those 13 people were in that group. There are lots of ways to have this kind of chat between friends. IM is the simplest, and there is very little chance of getting noticed unless IT is sniffing all traffic.


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