Social Media Today: A Cautionary Tale


The pitfalls of social media are well documented. There was the Kenneth Cole tweet equating “boots on the ground” in Syria with their sandals, pumps and loafers. American Apparel sent out an email blast about its sale during Hurricane Sandy, in case people “were bored.” And a University of Kansas tenured journalism professor, David Guth, was put on indefinite leave after sending a tweet (from his personal account) condemning the NRA in the aftermath of the Washington Navy Yard incident. This poses a troubling question for everyone, from major corporations to higher education: Where is the line that cannot be crossed?

The Kansas Board of Regents responded to the Guth incident with a new social media policy that permits the firing of faculty or staff who post social media messages that are “contrary to the best interests of the employer,” according to the Lawrence Journal. I find this troubling for two reasons.

First, David Guth was tweeting a personal opinion from his personal Twitter account since closed. It was an emotional response to a specific and public event, and it was echoed in the content he posted on his personal blog. The University of Kansas responded by removing him from the classroom until the fall of 2014, although this was not a classroom or pedagogical issue. His was a public stand against the NRA championing a gun culture.

Secondly, the current policy for suspensions, terminations and dismissals is based on felonious charges and convictions, significant reduction or elimination of funding sources to support positions, program discontinuances, financial exigency or just cause-related performance of duties. Each of these is measurable and objective criteria. The new language is neither measurable nor objective.

As a former academic, I am chilled by the idea that personal opinion can be grounds for dismissal for tenured faculty. As an employed individual interested in social media, I am concerned that a personal statement can get me fired, if my employer deems it to be against their best interests. These serious concerns are being addressed piecemeal through the courts.

It is incumbent upon individuals and companies to work together to develop sane and objective social media policies that protect our first-amendment right to speak (or tweet or post) freely.

What do you think? How do we address this? Let me know in the comments.

Kathleen Gossman – Project Manager


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