The Scott McIntyre case – The pitfalls of social media and work

“Guido, come and see me in my office”.  That was a phone call first thing in the morning from my boss.  Immediately I felt a knot in my stomach.  My boss always emails me.  When she asks to see her in her office it usually means something not good.  Also I came to know her tone of voice and this time it was the ‘somber’ one.

I walked in and I was shocked to see photocopies of something I posted on Facebook and subsequent interactions.

My crime was that I posted a link to this article from the Herald Sun about adult film actor Angela White filming sex scenes in the LaTrobe Bundoora campus library.

As a University Librarian (not at LaTrobe) I thought it was a funny story.  And I wasn’t posting anything ‘naughty’, you can’t go wrong with putting up something from the Herald Sun .  The discussions that followed in Facebook involved in recounting some of the things that were done to some books.  OK I can leave this to your imagination (they were about nudism…we’ll leave it at that).  But nothing really scurrilous.

Somehow my Facebook post was picked up by the University’s media unit and it percolated from the University’s Librarian (position just under the Vice-Chancellor) to my boss’ boss’ boss then to my boss’ boss and then to my boss.

Maybe all the Universities media unit were on red alert after the news came out and were scouring social media for any comments.  My boss warned me about the dangers of social media. But, I protested.  That post was done on a Sunday, on my iPad at home.  My boss said that it didn’t matter.  My posts identified me as a Librarian at the University and this could have repercussions.

She then passed me the official University policy for Social Media. I said that it was not relevant as I wasn’t posting as an official staff member.  She said that it didn’t matter as I could be identified as so, and said to be careful in the future.  She advised me to steer clear from anything controversial, even if it was my personal account.

As you would imagine I was taken aback.  How could something fairly innocuous which was done in my own time on my personal Facebook account has to do with my employer?  No doubt that the University was a bit oversensitive.  My posts were in no way in any ‘official’ work capacity.  However I imagine that media units of universities were ultra careful that the mainstream media didn’t pick up other ‘incidents’.

So I deleted where I worked on my Facebook account, and made a professional twitter account just for work stuff.

Social media is like a South Eastern Eucalyptus forest on a 40 degrees windy day in summer.  A spark and a small flame can become a  wildfire.  This has happened with Stuart McIntyre today.

In case you didn’t follow the shitstorm on twitter these were the tweets that got him sacked from his job as SBS Asia Football commentator.

Inevitably this created a huge backlash.  A torrent of abuse ensued like

Then Malcolm Turnbull denounced his tweets and this morning Scott was sacked.

Now many are criticising SBS for denying Scott freedom of speech. However whether you agree of disagree with his statements, the problem was that his account was also a work one.  He identified himself as a SBS employee and that twitter account was used as a work tool.

scottBy identifying himself as a SBS employee rightly or wrongly he dragged them in the controversy.  As Molks tweeted.

The question is whether if Scott tweeted those opinions on a purely personal account where he didn’t identify himself as an SBS employee whether he should have been sacked.  And I firmly believe no.

So if I tweeted something really controversial such as Scott did on my personal twitter and facebook account, not identifying myself with my employer, in my own time, should my employer take action? No. That would be totally inappropriate.  If anyone managed to link me to my employer now they would have to do a Google search and contact them, it would border on the malicious.

It would be akin as being dismissed because I wrote a letter to the editor, or voiced an opinion at a public meeting.  It really would be a breach of human rights.

Same if Scott wrote that in a personal account with no links to his work, just himself and tweeted that I also believe that he shouldn’t have been sacked.  But he didn’t

By paraphrasing Pat Benatar….Social Media is a Battlefield…..

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1 Comment

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One response to “The Scott McIntyre case – The pitfalls of social media and work

  1. Alex

    To make things more complicated in this case, I doubt “his” followers are actually following him because of some special trait he has, but rather because of the access he has because of his job. Even if it were a nominal personal account, the followers are really there because of his professional position.
    But then, even if there isn’t a social media policy, he has probably breached his general code-of-conduct.
    And for those talking about free speech, the free speech the diggers were fighting for is that he can make a political position (like he did) and not have the Government persecute or prosecute for it. It doesn’t mean that Turnbull, or anyone else can’t disagree.

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