Why businesses should care about employees' online activites

Mon, 22/02/2016 - 00:00

Businesses can’t afford to ignore the impact of the internet - particularly on platforms such as social media and blogs. It’s presented new questions of ethics and business practice - or at least presented questions we didn’t expect.

For example, for many, the internet and our real lives are separate things. The idea that you should examine and respond to situations - or behaviours - online as you would in real life seems alien. Many like to imagine that, behind a screen, they are immune to consequences; they think it is irrelevant to their place of employment what they do on their social media or blogs.

Yet, as the past few years have demonstrated, this just isn’t true. Famously, a non-celebrity tweeted a racist-sounding joke that resulted in her summarily being fired; Rolling Stone has a collection detailing the many more examples of people losing their jobs because of controversial or offensive activities.

The Wall Street Journal noted that the question of whether businesses should be involved in the private social media posts of employees (or potential employees) isn’t worth asking anymore: businesses are already in the habit of engaging with people’s online life.

“According to [a 2013 survey from CareerBuilder, which helps corporations survey], 39% of employers dig into candidates on social sites, while 43% said they had found something that made them deep-six a candidate—such as posting inappropriate photos or information, or bad-mouthing a former boss.”

This shouldn’t be surprising: If people are being fired for inappropriate content on their social media sites, it makes sense they wouldn’t get the job. The overarching point is that businesses don’t want to be associated with the kind of people that would, for example, post racially insensitive comments.

Locally, we’ve seen that situation, too.

Often, people consider this a free speech issue. But that relies on a false premise: that online life and real life are truly separate. Yet, this is plainly false when we consider that the internet has become part of daily life.

Perhaps, at a time when the internet was rarely used, often by a few nerdy types of people, it was possible to talk about a separate place. But today, when so much is integrated with always-online, instantly-connected digital spaces, it’s no longer viable. Businesses themselves must protect their image since their reputation can be damaged by online perception.

Businesses’ decisions are, as always, individual. But what we should be aware of is that we can’t sustain the notion that our online life has no relevance to our careers. Businesses should care because it impacts them and individuals should care because businesses hire us.

The digital age is still young, but considerations for business reputation are nothing new at all.

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