The Costs of Speaking Your Mind Online

Social Media plays a huge role in today’s society. Today, there are 2,078 billion active social media accounts in the world (See full list of facts and statistics here). Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram allow us to network and communicate across a broad audience. For many of us, we use social media as a way to express and communicate our beliefs and opinions.

we are digital

(Source: Wearesocial.net)

In the U.S., the constitutional right to freedom of speech has always been valued. According to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Although we may like to believe that this right gives us the freedom to post whatever we like on social media, the truth is that now more than ever our posts on social media could lead to major consequences.

In the video “Internet Privacy is Dead”, Lori Andrews, law professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law and author of the book, I Know Who You Are and I Saw What You Did: Social Networks and the Death of Privacy, states that the way you have been portrayed online has become more important than the person you are in real life. What you post on social media could haunt you forever and it is apparent that just because you have the right to freedom of speech, does not mean that you are exempt from the consequences that come with speaking your mind online.

In May 2015, a Subway employee was fired for celebrating two Mississippi cops’ deaths on social media. According to the New York Post article “Food Worker Fired After Praising the Death of Two Cops” written by Chris Perez, the Subway franchise commented that, “This behavior is unacceptable and does not represent our brand’s values and ethics.”

It’s important to note that this was just shortly after the civil unrest that occurred in Baltimore in April 2015. Currently, there is clear resentment against the U.S. police force and this employee was expressing that in her social media posts. Subway’s reasoning for terminating this employee was based on the fact that her behavior and opinions did not reflect the brand’s values and ethics.

Companies across the nation are surveying employees’ social media accounts and implementing company policies about what employees can post online. A fourth grade teacher was fired in June 2015 after posting a racist rant on Facebook in response an incident where a cop pinned a 15 year old girl to the ground while trying to break up pool party disturbance in McKinney, Texas.

According to an article written by Rebecca Klein, Frenship Independent School District, stated “The district is deeply disappointed in the thoughtlessness conveyed by this employee’s post. We find these statements to be extremely offensive, insensitive, and disrespectful to our Frenship community and citizens everywhere. These comments in no way represent the educational environment we have created for our students.”

What we are seeing is that employers are now holding their employees accountable for their actions online, and I believe this is a result of companies trying to protect their brand and/or image. Companies also have to attempt to stay in a neutral territory when it comes to controversial current events and the world of politics.

As a result, it is impossible for users of social media to have the freedom to post whatever they want online. So the question is, are the actions and policies that companies implement regarding their employees conduct on social media, abridging the right to freedom of speech? Absolutely. Is this fair? I believe that it is not fair, however I understand the concern from these companies regarding protecting their brands and the public perception of their company. When you post anything on social media, it is a representation of not only you, but also your employer. I feel that these policies and regulations are only going to become stricter as time goes on, which means that we are all going to have to be aware of the costs and consequences of speaking our mind online.

Brittany Kiser, Graduate Student

Master of Arts in Emerging Media

Loyola University Maryland 

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