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Social media has become a significant element of our daily existence. For many, it is as necessary as a limb or organ – can be done without, but with great difficulty!

I recently heard an interview with Emma Sadlier who is a media law consultant. In the interview, she spoke about the ramifications that social media has in all areas of our life but particularly in our careers. This thought echoed a similar sentiment to that shared by a professor who told us to go back to our Facebook pages and other social media platforms and edit/delete photos and posts that you feel do not represent the person you want to be portrayed as in your career.

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At the time, I didn’t really pay too much attention to it, but over the last few years, it has become apparent that what you put out there is in essence your brand. What does your brand on social media say about you?

I am by no means a social media expert, but I found this topic to be interesting enough to research further. Emma Sadlier mentioned in an interview that we should just use common sense when posting on social media, but haven’t you found that common sense is the exact opposite, meaning not common at all? We have all ticked the little box that says we agree to the terms and conditions of use, but I do not know of a single person who actually reads those terms and conditions. Regardless, we are still accountable for the content that is put out there and can face legal recourse as a result. 

It is astonishing what can be revealed about you based on your interaction on social media. Usama Fayyad who is the Chief Data Officer and Group Managing Director at Barclays PLC gave a talk on ‘big data’ (topic for another day) where he spoke about how easy it was for two interns to develop a commercial profile on him based on his Facebook profile. He mentioned that he was not very active on Facebook and maybe ‘liked’ twelve things. The significance is that a profile can be drawn up not only on your own individual behaviour, but also from the behaviour of those you are associated with.

Social media etiquette

Is there such a thing a social media etiquette? Isn’t the point of social media to provide a platform to publically voice thoughts and opinions freely? It is, but information on a public platform allows companies or recruitment agencies, for example, to get a ‘character reference’ by merely looking at what is available about you on social media.

A recent article posted in NSBC’s My Business Mag highlighted the impact of social media in the recruitment process.

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“Many companies have dismissed or rejected candidates based on information found on social media. Research has shown that the following information found on social media platforms impacts the candidate’s possible placement:

- drinking or any drug related photos

  • - poor communication skills including the use of ‘slang’

  • - provocative photos

  • - an unprofessional screen name

  • - lying about qualifications”

You may think that this is a bit extreme and an invasion of personal space, however it must be remembered that personal is relative on social media.

I know many of you may not agree with what is contained in the points above, and even I was a bit sceptical, but after reading quite a bit about the topic, it seems like these points should not be taken lightly. Posting pictures, the type of content you are commenting on and the type of comments you provide should all be considered.

It is not only the recruitment process that you should be weary of, but all employed individuals of all levels should be mindful.

It was just last week that we heard of the expulsion of Dianne Kohler Barnard from the DA for comments made on Facebook which went against the social media policy of the party. There are many other cases of less known individuals who were dealt the same fate. The mentality of “It can’t happen to me” should be forgotten. The good thing is that you are in control.

Legal matters

There are no separate laws that deal explicitly with social media in South Africa. According to Excelsur Legal Services (Excelsur), “The same employment laws that apply to employees in the real world applies to their conduct online. These employment laws include the right to discipline employees for social media misconduct.

‘Excelsur’ also notes that the so-called disclaimers of “but it is outside of working hours”, “I am posting in my personal capacity” and “but it’s on my private page with privacy settings” have no effect as the employees personal and professional life is not clear-cut on social media.

There are no rules governing what you should post on social media however the following point by Rosalind Davey, a partner at Bowman Gilfillan Attorney’s should be borne in mind “It’s just about being careful. Everyone knows they have a right to freedom of expression. The difficulty is that not everyone realises that freedom of expression will take second place if by exercising your freedom of expression, you are infringing on someone’s privacy or dignity.” (Source: You can get fired for what you say- Jessica Wood)

Enjoy social media. It is a great way to engage with others, build your brand and stay connected. But remember; #thinkbeforeyoupost and #bemindful J

Natasha Bhowani Seeth CA (SA)

 

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