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Should You Get Fired For "Liking" Something On Facebook?

I've blogged before about the evils of Facebook's "like" button, but there's just more and more to dislike lately. Case in point: Now employees can get fired for "liking" something on Facebook. Oh, great.

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A Library of Congress employee claims he was fired for liking a Facebook page called "Two Dads," which, as you might guess, discusses issues affecting the gay and lesbian community. The act of "liking" this particular Facebook page essentially outed the employee to his boss, who apparently began sending the employee religiously-laced emails to try to, you know, change his ways.

The ex-employee is now suing the Library of Congress, and has filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunities Complaints Office that will be addressed in the coming weeks. As a show of support, the "Two Dads" Facebook page now touts a large photo of the former LOC employee, Peter TerVeer, as its banner.

TerVeer's case puts front and center the real problem of social media at work: Squaring our professional selves in the office with our "real selves" online. Whether it's "liking" a Facebook page, retweeting a story or comment on Twitter, starting a Tumblr page or kicking it old school by writing a blog, revealing our real selves in a revealing age is something the 21st Century workplace simply doesn't know how to deal with yet.

At best, we're faced with a mixed message. On the one hand, job applicants are advised to have a strong social media "footprint" while employees at some firms are being told to astroturf -- e.g., to use their social media accounts to promote vigorously the company's products, services and clients. On the other hand, employees are advised not to say too much or to reveal their true selves at work. Consider a brand-new Daily Mail article that flat-out warns employees never to "just be themselves" at work and touts a survey that says employees who conceal their "real selves" on the job are the happiest employees. After all, workplace tradition dictates that we leave our real selves at home, which is somewhat essential from the employer's perspective because some employees have no filter, even offline.

Now enter Facebook's "like" button, which reveals our real selves, all the time -- at the same time we're playing our professional roles at work. It's not surprising that we're all a little bit confused by the duality, not to mention the muddy expectations and potential minefields. Be very social, but don't say very much. Tell us something smart or funny, but don't say the wrong thing.

Bottom line: The strict lines between our real selves and our professional selves are being blurred beyond recognition thanks to social media, and the genie is out of the bottle. Probably forever. The Facebook pages we like say something about us for all to see, especially if we're not keeping up on Facebook's ever-changing privacy settings. What if your employer has a problem with what you "like"? Then what? Can your employer do something about it? Should your employer be able to do something about it? Is a thumbs up now grounds for firing? The National Labor Relations Board recently issued a set of social media guidelines for employers but I don't think anyone knows the answers yet, which is what makes Mr. TerVeer's case so fascinating.

For now, we wait to see what happens. When we're not busy "liking" Facebook pages, downloading the Facebook enemies app, or hitting up our Facebook "friends" to work for free, that is. Hey, no one said friendship in the social media age was always going to be easy.

Comments

  1. In my opinion it's only a matter of time when all employers will realize that social networks actually increase productivity. There already are some new methods to encourage employee motivation implemented by many companies such as the so-called workplace exercise regimen. The truth is that money no longer plays a role in employee motivation and the traditional ways of keeping your employees constantly engaged simply don't work anymore.

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