I’m not sure how practical it is for Lord McAlpine to sue 10,000 Twitter users, but it does serve as a very clear reminder that comments made over a public forum do have repercussions. Something many employees forget.
Social has given people a forum to vent their opinions and feelings without thinking of the consequences. Instead of waiting till they see their mates down the pub after work, many reach for their favourite social network to update followers of the latest
gossip, lewd joke or just to vent about someone or thing that has annoyed them. Much is made of the freedom of speech, but many people forget that this is countered by laws, even in the most liberal of countries, that protect others.
Regulation within financial services means that no conversation is ever truly private, even if you’re using something like Skype to instant message over the corporate network one wrong word or phrase is enough to flag up the message for further internal
investigation. Organisations are fast catching on that archiving electronic communications isn’t just about complying with regulation, but providing a means of stamping out other unwanted activity such as rogue traders or insider trading.
Content posted to social media can also be controlled, protecting both the employer and the employee from their own thoughtlessness, but what can be done when an employee has left the organisations either voluntarily or forced?
The key point here is policies. Too many organisations have enabled social media or federated their unified communications without updating employee policies adequately enough to protect themselves when things go sour. Although normally inclusive in the
general terms of a contract it is worth emphasising the point to employees and regularly reviewing policies to ensure they remain up to date. However, employees also need to be educated.
One repeating theme that comes up in employment tribunals over social media is that employees thought that comments made in private on Facebook were only visible to their friends. They had not considered that friends could share a comment or that it might
become visible outside of their network. Aside from the point that nothing posted to social media can ever be considered private, it shows a lack of understanding over privacy settings too.
Fortunately for the majority of the 10,000 twits that made libellous comments, Lord McAlpine is only looking to sue the ones with large numbers of followers where it will have the most impact. Let’s hope if nothing else comes out of this that more people
will consider their own reputation and others before clicking post.