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Miss Netiquette’s guide to not getting fired while using social media

Miss Nettiquette 07_06_2013 headerThe Internet is a wonderful if confusing world – and that’s why you sometimes need to be pointed in the right direction. Lucky for you, some of us spend far too much time online and logged in – and that wealth of experience translates into some social networking know-how. Consider Miss Netiquette (who you can reach at netiquette@digitaltrends.com) your guide to Web manners, and this week, she’s going to give you some tips on how you can enjoy yourself on social media without jeopardizing your job.

Getting fired is up there with breaking up and dealing with death when it comes to stressful life situations. You lose money, self-esteem, and then you have to deal with finding a new job, which is never fun. Sometimes you can’t avoid getting laid off … but sometimes, you definitely, definitely can. You don’t want to end up sans employment after your boss finds your Vine complaining about your job, or join the ever-swelling ranks of people who get fired for tweets that don’t jive with the reputation of their employer. Saying RT doesn’t equal endorsement doesn’t mean you can re-tweet a bigot with impunity if you work at Equality Now (or anywhere, really.) It’s important to understand what you can and can’t do with your digital persona so you can have fun online and keep the paychecks coming.

Dear Miss Netiquette: I work for a pretty stodgy financial consulting firm, but I have a really ribald sense of humor. I like to toe the line when it comes to my tweets. I use a made-up Twitter name that’s not connected to my real name, but some of my co-workers have asked me about my account, so I gave it to them. Now I’m worried they’ll inadvertently tell my bosses or out me. What should I do?

Well, since the scandalous tweet cat is out of the bag, you have a few options. You can shut your account down and start a new one, though you may not want to do that if you’ve amassed a bunch of followers. You can explain your concerns to your co-workers and hope they don’t mention anything, but that depends on how much you trust them. You can block them, but that will just draw attention to the fact that you don’t want them to see it, which makes a conversation between them at work about your Twitter more likely, not less. If you wanted to keep your R-rated tweets a secret, you really shouldn’t have told them in the first place. If they’re your friends, I’d just ask them politely to keep it on the down low and then use this as a lesson not to share that kind of stuff again. If you think they may use the information against you, get rid of your account – you probably value your job more, right? Maybe tell them you ended up abandoning the handle and someone else picked it up. And then block them, as if it were a private account. Some might get suspicious, but it’s really the only way you can have your cake and eat it too. 

Dear Miss Netiquette: I just got hired at a law firm and one of the partners pulled me aside and told me to “clean up” my vacation pictures – they’re not racy, but I went to Mexico with my family so I am in a bathing suit in some of them. Is it even kosher for him to do that? Can I get fired if I don’t?

It’s not clear if you’re Facebook friends with this partner or if your pictures are public, but first thing: Make those pictures private, so only your friends can see them – otherwise you never know who is creeping on shots of your bod.

Now that your photos are private, let’s get down to business. Your boss can fire you for these pictures, even if that seems unfair. You might think it’s your First Amendment right to post these photos without fear of firing, but if you work in the private sector, your boss has quite a bit of discretion.  You could take the case to court, but if you want to avoid trouble in the first place, I’d change all of your photo settings so none of the partners or your co-workers can see these photos. Then they’ll think you took them down. If for some reason you’re Facebook friends with any of these people, promptly add them to your “restricted” list and again – make those photos private in some way; even a “friends only” designation will do wonders. 

 Dear Miss Netiquette: I work at a bar, and my friend who works there as a waitresses made a funny joke ripping on one of our regulars on Twitter last week. I Favorited it without a second thought. But apparently our manager saw the tweet and is really mad – he fired her the next day. Now I’m paranoid he’s going to see my Favorite and fire me, too. Should I apologize? Or just hope he doesn’t see it?

 If you haven’t already, you need to un-Favorite that tweet – just click the button again. This may not save you if your manager already noticed and took a screenshot, but if you haven’t been fired yet, chances are they didn’t notice. Absolutely don’t apologize as that will call attention to the fact that you showed digital support for the comment. Act like you never saw it and help your friend look through employment ads after you’re finished with your shift. You definitely can get fired for pressing Favorite, since there has already been a case where someone who worked in a bar was fired for “liking” a disparaging remark another co-worker made about the job.

Dear Miss Netiquette: My son is generally a very smart kid. Great grades, scholarships, plus he’s polite. He’s in his last year at BU with a degree in engineering, so he’s extremely hire-worthy – and I’m looking forward to seeing him earn real money so I can stop paying for his iPhone. But I’m very worried because he often swears in his Facebook updates and there are pictures of him drinking beer and out at bars all over Facebook. He told me that I can only see this stuff because I’m his “friend” on the site, but what if his future employers find a way to see it? Do you think he should take it down?

I would advise your son to take great pains to assure that all potentially damaging pictures on Facebook are safely hidden from anyone who could know anyone he’s trying to get a job from. You may be over-reacting, since employers shouldn’t be able to see his photos if he has his privacy settings configured to only allow friends. But Facebook isn’t immune to bugs, and you never know – better safe than sorry. If you’re really worried that his kegger pictures and penchant for curse words will mess with his employment prospects, just say you’re not going to pay his phone bill until his profile passes muster. He might just limit what you can see on the site, but at least that will make him re-evaluate his privacy settings again. You can’t control what he puts up, but I think making a point to discuss potential problems is a good thing for a parent to do.