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Tuesday, March 17, 2009


I was put up to this post by a fellow employee where I (sometimes) work. "Dear Blog Leader," he wrote. He sent me the link to an article on someone fired for a post on Facebook. Since I am going in to play poker tomorrow at noon, I figured I better get on with it, in my own roundabout way.

The Lowell Sun had an article today on how older people are now going to Facebook, the on-line social networking service.  I would like to link to the article, but being one of those older Facebook users, I am unable to find the piece on line.  Incidentally, it was only when I signed up for Facebook that they noticed this graying of the service.  I distorted all the statistics.

But, there are other issues with Facebook, such as who owns the content.  Here I was more successful in finding a link.  The Lowell Sun today tackled the question of who owns the content after it is posted.  Initially, in a 5 February 2009 revision to the terms of Service, it was Facebook.  Now we have Mark Zuckerborg, CEO of Facebook, saying of the new policy
It reaffirms that users, not Facebook, own the content they share through Facebook services and that Facebook's permission to use that content expires when users delete the content or terminate their accounts.
That is good news.

But, what you write on Facebook is open for all to see.  You can bet your bottom dollar that those doing hiring at companies with an Internet connection are checking on Facebook to see who you are, who you display to the world as yourself.  While not a Human Resources quotation, this sentence from the unlinked article puts the point well.  Associated Press writer Beth Defalco quotes her Grandfather:
I don't browse Facebook much, but I see that it is a way to get to the nitty-gritty of a person's character.
There you have it.

And, you can get fired for what you put on Facebook.  On Fox Sports News there is this article (updated 10 March 2009), "Eagles sack worker for online comment."  The gist of it is that
Dan Leone, a game-day worker at Lincoln Financial Field, told The Inquirer he was fired after posting an angry reaction to the news that fan favorite Brian Dawkins had left the Eagles to sign with the Denver Broncos.
That would be The Philadelphia Inquirer.  Their 9 March 2009 article is here.

If this post on The Inquirer web site is to be believed, the Eagles have been heavy handed before, getting a radio personality suspended for two days for calling Eagles security "Nazis."  Frankly, it is unlikely they are real Nazis.  If they were, there would have been war crimes trials and hangings, or if they really were Nazis, cyanide pills tucked in the rolls of fat.  But, they aren't.  On the other hand, that WIP should roll over for the Eagles management is a sad commentary on the MSM.

So, should employers be scanning Facebook to see if they like the cut of your jib?  I don't think so.  It smacks of the kind of paternalism that moves us toward a nanny state.  Sure, companies can be concerned that you are going to come into the office and do something terrible, but where is the line drawn?  Are they going to be getting with AOL and checking your private EMails?  That isn't your company's job.  That isn't even the job of the FISA Court.  And the FISA Court goes back to 1975 and the Church Committee in the US Congress, that investigated domestic spying, which we decided is against our Constitutional Rights.

All that said, using Facebook is one of the many ways to keep in touch with friends and far flung relatives.  But, it is a tool open to abuse. One needs to use some caution.

Information wants to be free.  The original micro-economic meaning of that expression was re-spun by the leader of the GNU project, Richard Stallman.  (Or maybe I am taking the term further than Mr Stallman would take it.  My view is that information does not wish to be locked away, but to be out there, doing good. In a free society, information, especially information the hand of Government touches, needs to be accessible to the citizenry.)

But, the fact is, Information also needs to be prudent.  Or, at least those who generate information need to be prudent--and those who have the power to hire and fire need to show self-restraint before they go peeping in their neighbor's window.  And the neighbor ought to know when to pull the shades.

Regards  --  Cliff

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