It seems that every day, there is another example of an employee who got in trouble for something posted on Facebook, or Twitter, or one of the myriad other social media websites. This week’s story—via The Word on Employment Law with John Phillips—concerns an Ohio teacher busted for messaging on Facebook with a student about having sex. These issues, though are not new. They have just become more prominent because of the prevalence and pervasiveness of social media in our lives.
For example, consider the case of Christine O’Donnell. A mere five days after she won the Delaware Republican senatorial primary, comedian-cum-pundit Bill Maher ran on his current TV show an 11-year-old clip from Mr. Maher’s old TV show of Ms. O’Donnell discussing her trifling with witchcraft as a teenager. CNN.com has the details (and the video):
“I dabbled into witchcraft - I never joined a coven. But I did, I did…. I dabbled into witchcraft,” O’Donnell said during a 1999 appearance on the show, which ran on ABC. “I hung around people who were doing these things. I'm not making this stuff up. I know what they told me they do.”
She then described one of her first dates—with a witch “on a satanic altar.”
“I didn't know it,” she said. “I mean, there's little blood there and stuff like that. We went to a movie and then had a midnight picnic on a satanic altar.”
Stories like these will become more prevalent as social media continues to pervade every aspect of our lives. The question for employers to answer is to what extent revelations like those surrounding Christine O’Donnell will play (and should play) in decisions affecting the hiring of new employees and the retention of existing employees. Should a decades-old youthful indiscretion disqualify someone from employment? We all have things in our past that we hope do not get discovered in our present. Social media, however, makes our pasts that much harder to distance ourselves from.
I offer no answers, but merely raise the issue for consideration as we continue our metamorphosis into a society that favors public disclosure over personal privacy.