Trial by Twitter

Twitter is great tool for communication and sharing of views. But it can create a host of issues and potential problems for companies, employers and individuals. Many problems do not yet have firm answers but awareness of the issues is key.

In the first of two guest blogs, Kate Anthony Wilkinson shares her top 5 Twitter tips.

Libel - Lord McAlpine has announced that he will sue all Twitter users who commented adversely on the recent allegations of child abuse. It’s too late to delete those Tweets as his advisers say they already have details of offenders. This also applies to any re-Tweets. Mrs Beddows response of “Oops!” may be an understatement of the trouble in which some Tweeters may now find themselves. Lesson: Think before you Tweet - are you certain of your facts?

  • Breach of Confidentiality- all Tweeters must remember that posting Tweets containing confidential information about their employers or business associates may find them breaching confidentiality undertakings in their employment or business contracts. This could lead to disciplinary action and even dismissal in serious cases or loss of business. The defence of Whistle blowing is quite restricted. Companies should consider whether confidentiality undertakings should specifically address social media and employees should read their contracts. Lesson: Don’t post confidential information on social media.
  • Breach of Policy - some companies may have social media policies with guidance on what may/may not be posted on social media sites by employees and indeed when social media may be used by an employee. This may also be covered in a more generic IT policy. Breach of the policy may lead to disciplinary action. Companies should consider whether a social media policy is appropriate and what it should cover. Drafted properly a social media policy would (like that relied upon by Wetherspoons recently) allow an employee to be dismissed for breach. Lesson: Make sure that you know the terms of your company’s social media and IT policy.
  • Harassment and Bullying -it is quite possible for social media posts or Tweets to constitute harassment or bullying by an individual; if done by a fellow employee, then the employer could be held liable for the actions of its employee. Employers should ensure that any harassment and bullying policy also addresses on-line comments. Lesson: You might think it is a private comment or a bit of a joke, but comments on Facebook or other social media platforms may still constitute harassment or bullying actions.
  • Disrepute - it might be funny to you at the time but posting something silly (or rude) on social media or a funny film on YouTube could bring both you and your employer into disrepute and tarnish reputations. This may lead to disciplinary action depending on the nature of the comments, the extent of the audience and the potential damage caused. Lesson: Think how your employer may view your post.

No one size fits all. Different businesses will embrace, and different individuals will use, social media in different ways. The key is to think about how to use it safely and effectively and how to avoid problems and undesirable outcomes on all sides. In general, if you wouldn’t put the comment in a public letter, don’t put in as a Tweet.


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