Social Media In The Workplace

24 April 2018 7:53am
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"Facebook is not your friend. It is a surveillance engine." - Richard Stallman

Like most thirty-somethings working in corporate communications, Justine Sacco was an avid twitter user. En route from New York to Cape Town, she fired off a few tweets to amuse herself and her 170 followers. Before the plane took off and she turned off her phone, she sent a final message: "Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I'm white!"

As her flight crossed the Atlantic, a hashtag began to trend worldwide: #HasJustineLandedYet.  By the time Sacco had touched down, tens of thou­ sands of angry tweets had been sent in response to her joke. Her ill-conceived tweet ultimately resulted in her dis­ missal and untold reputational harm to herself and her former employer.
Social Media in the Workplace draws on vivid cases like Sacco's to illustrate the risks posed by the emergence of Facebook and Twitter. The authors premise their work on the idea that everyone has a constitutional right to free speech but that this right is tempered by the rights to dignity, equality and privacy.

The book is aimed at three distinct audiences. Legal practitioners, employers, and social media users. The challenge with targeting a diverse audience is that it is difficult to pitch the content at the correct level. Rosalind Davey and Lenja Dahms-Jansen, both attorneys at Bowmans, have produced a remarkable scholarly work. It references hundreds of precedents from South Africa and abroad, while ensuring that the text is easily accessible to a lay audience.The book is a welcome addition to the libraries of lawyers working in labour or media law. It sets out the most recent common law rules relating to free speech, invasions of privacy and defamation, while also considering the relevant provisions of key legislation such as the Equality Act, the Labour Relations Act and the Protection from Harassment Act.

Social media users will learn about the limits of what they can share without winding up unemployed, before an equality court, or on the wrong end of a defamation suit. The work provides numerous cautionary tales of users overstepping the bounds of protected speech and incurring liability. The book sounds a warning to business owners about the danger of being held liable for defamatory content generated by their employees. The authors acknowledge that employers can't simply ban workers from using social media. They outline the risks faced by companies and provide sound principles for formulating internal social media policies.

Mark Oppenheimer is a practising Advocate and member of the Johannesburg Bar.

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