What can happen when you make an offensive Facebook post

Social media is a dangerous place for employees to share their views, especially if they are perceived to be racist, sexist, or derogatory.

In 2013, former Hawks spokesperson McIntosh Polela was fired for tweeting: “I trust that JubJub’s supporters gave him a jar of Vaseline to take to prison.”

Last year, economist Chris Hart resigned from Standard Bank after a furore about his tweet “More than 25 years after apartheid ended, the victims are increasing along with a sense of entitlement and hatred towards minorities”.

Gareth Cliff was forced to launch a legal battle to keep his job as an Idols judge after he defended Penny Sparrow’s right to freedom of speech on Twitter following her racist rant online.

When a comment on Facebook or Twitter can easily land employees in trouble, it raises the question as to what companies’ policies are on social media use by employees.

Telkom – A harmful social media post or interaction may result in action against the employee.

Telkom spokesperson Jacqui O’Sullivan said employees must comply with the stipulations set out in the company’s Business Code of Ethics.

Adherence to the Group’s Media and Social Media policies is compulsory.

“Employees are encouraged to participate on social media platforms, but within the guidelines stipulated in the relevant policies where matters referencing or impacting the company is concerned,” she said.

“Where the company deems a social media post or interaction to be harmful to the company, action may be taken against an employee on merit of the matter.”

Afrihost – If an employee’s expressed values differ from the company’s, then it may not be a good fit.

Afrihost views any public behaviour – in the physical world or digital space – as falling within the company’s code of conduct.

“Any interaction or comments that occur in public, particularly where they are traceable back to the company, must adhere to the company’s values and code of conduct,” said Afrihost.

Afrihost has never dismissed an employee for comments made on Facebook or Twitter.

“We feel we need to balance the employee’s indiscretion with the realities of social media and how difficult it is these days to separate work and personal life.”

“However, it also comes down to shared values. If an employee’s expressed public values differ from the company’s, then it may not be a good fit in the long run.”

If an employee makes a racist, sexist, or derogatory comment on Facebook or Twitter, the company’s disciplinary code will be enforced.

“Each case will be investigated and assessed, and can result in sanctions like written warnings or a dismissal.”

Cell C – We have a social media policy in place which governs employee conduct.

Cell C has a social media policy in place which governs an employee’s conduct. “The policy contains various clauses in line with Cell C’s employee code of conduct,” it said.

Cell C has not had to act against an employee for contravention of its social media policy.

However, if an employee makes racist, sexist, or derogatory comments, the social media policy will apply and the normal HR process will follow.

Vodacom – A distinction should be made between personal interaction and that done on behalf of Vodacom.

Vodacom said it encourages employees to use social media.

“In our view, social media is a great way to identify emerging trends and learn about new industry products and services,” said Vodacom.

Social media can also help employees understand how consumers experience Vodacom, it said.

However, a distinction should be made between personal interaction and that done on behalf of Vodacom.

“As a general guideline, employees should not respond or make comments on behalf of the company.”

Vodacom’s advice for using social media

Vodacom has never dismissed an employee for comments made on Facebook or Twitter. This is partly due to the company’s good social media policy.

Vodacom’s advice to employees regarding social media use is as follows:

With social networks, the lines between professional and personal lives are blurring.

We tell our employees to expect that people who they work with, or may want to work with, will see their content.

Therefore they need to manage what they share and who they share it with.

They must not presume that their Twitter feed or Facebook page is private forever and remember that whatever they publish in the public domain will remain there for some time.

We tell our employees to keep in mind that any electronic content can find its way to a blog.

Blog posts have a long shelf life on the Internet and others will be able to read what they wrote.

If they don’t want their commentary published elsewhere, do not post it to a blog and do not share it over email.

Our Social Media Rules of Engagement for Employees includes:

  • Never pick fights. If someone leaves a hostile comment or a snarky reply, take the higher road. Defend your point of view, but be polite.
  • Always demonstrate respect for others’ points of view, even when they’re not offering the same in return. You can have an edge without being obscene, defamatory, threatening, harassing, discriminatory, or hateful.
  • Employees should not discuss proposed products or services, or potentially-innovative solutions, without first discussing ideas internally within Vodacom. Talk to our legal team or submit your idea formally to check whether it is patentable.
  • If you make an error, be upfront and correct it quickly. On a blog, if you choose to modify a post, make it clear that you have done so.

Now read: Twitter and Facebook disclaimers will not protect you against being fired

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What can happen when you make an offensive Facebook post