How interaction on social media can affect jobs: Russel Luck (Swift Momentum) & Dinesh Balliah (Wits Journalism)

What you put out on Twitter, Facebook, etc, could cost you a potential job.

SIKI MGABADELI: If you’ve gone for a job interview you know that much of the process of applying and interviewing for a new job is acting, because you are trying to put your best foot forward, you are trying to create a certain impression and hide some of the maybe more unacceptable sides of your personality.
   But social networks have changed the game and they provide employers with a potential view of the real you that could prevent you from getting the job.
   So we are taking a look now at how what you post on social media can cost you your job or a potential future job. You’ve seen the instances – I don’t have to recount them – where people post something that offends millions of people and then there is a huge campaign for them to lose their jobs. But in the US in fact they’ve done few studies where they have looked at how companies actually do go through people’s social media profiles when they are evaluating whether or not you should be in that job or not.
   So if you want to share any experiences or help us out with our conversation today, you can call us. I’m speaking to Russel Luck, who is a technology attorney with Swift Momentum, and Dinesh Balliah, who is a social media lecturer at Wits Journalism. Thanks so much to both of you for your time today.

RUSSEL LUCK: Hi, Siki, thanks very much for having me on your show today.

SIKI MGABADELI: It’s an absolute pleasure. Now, Dinesh, I don’t know why we do it. Is there like a stupidity button that happens when people get on the internet, because some of the things that I see people say are things that they’d never say normally.

DINESH BALLIAH: I think if I had to compare it to anything, I’d compare it to being in a car on the streets of Johannesburg. When we are in that car we are aggressive, we think we can get ahead, we can do whatever we want. But get that person out of the car and put them in front of you, and they would not ever do what they are doing inside the car. So it’s as if we are sheltered in a way and we think that we’ll never get caught out, we’ll never be seen in person, never be confronted with what we said on social media.

SIKI MGABADELI: And yet, in some of those cases in some of those cars, those people do sometimes get caught and land up behind bars – and then they are shocked that it has happened, usually.

DINESH BALLIAH: Absolutely. And this is the problem with social media. But I think we are getting better at it. We are getting better at learning our lessons and realising we can’t say and do everything that we want to do on social media.
   But actually there is an enormous responsibility with using it and, as you said, lots of companies are looking at social media and checking out your profiles. I would be surprised if a company is not doing it, because it’s a very, very easy way to gauge a personality, to gauge the kind of employee you would potentially be.

SIKI MGABADELI: That’s the point, Russel, right? It’s about the consequences of your actions and being cognisant of them.

RUSSEL LUCK: It’s about the consequences, but more than that I think it’s just the human nature and the kind of fragmentation of our lives to a certain extent – the person you are at work is not necessarily the person you are at home. …[unclear, poor audio] especially if you are not working for a company you want to present a certain persona. And on social media, because you are sharing huge aspects of your life – and there are may kind of facets to it – you often present more than that.
   There are some interesting developments. For example in Germany in various places … basically there is a limited extent to which employers were allowed to use Google searches and social media to ascertain what their candidates’ profiles were. ….they could Google search them and see what came up because your organic search will also come with LinkedIn and Facebook and Twitter as your primary search. They could see just the highlighted segment but they weren’t actually allowed to go in and search their profiles.
   So we are not sure if that is par for Germany or the US or not, and there is no equivalent legislation anywhere in the world, and certainly not in South Africa. But it’s quite an interesting development in the employment process.

SIKI MGABADELI: And that’s quite interesting, and I’ll get you to weigh in on that, Dinesh in moment. But Russel, have there been any specific cases in South Africa where someone has either lost their job or been taken to court by the employer because of what they have said on social media?

RUSSEL LUCK: Yes, for sure. Just to kind of separate the issues, because a lot of people get confused, the one issue is that what you say in social media forums may cost you your job. Whether that is sufficient enough or damaging enough to affect the reputation of your company or a person in particular is a separate issue. So if you were to affect their reputation you could actually be sued for damages under defamation laws …Separate from that, even if …. you are kind of derogatory about your employers or a … something to that effect, then you can still be dismissed from your job but then the person you said those negative comments to wouldn’t be able to sue you for damages. You could lose your job at the first stage and if you really go overboard you could also face a damages claim somewhere down the line.

SIKI MGABADELI: In those cases what sort of defence could you put forward as a user?

RUSSEL LUCK: If you are facing a disciplinary hearing, there are two facets to that. The one is kind of you … and apologise profusely because usually the employer has a code of conduct that is not necessarily an actual physical code. It’s just part and parcel of how you should conduct yourself in all facets of your life and it’s not in the context of employment what you say. So if it is severe enough to irreparably damage the relationship between the employer and the employee, you could be dismissed. If it was less than that you could just be subject to some sort of warning or disciplinary action.
   There have been cases in South Africa where people have been dismissed under the CCMA for what they’ve said about their employers and members of staff,. But we are not sure if that would hold up in the High Court because the CCMA is a tribunal and then the next step up would be the High Court, to have it adjudicated by judges – and then they would set a legal precedent. I’m not sure how strongly that would hold up in labour relations. But for now, yes, what you say in social media, Twitter, Facebook, private forms, etc, can cost you your job, for sure.

SIKI MGABADELI: Unfortunately I have to let Russel go – he’s got another engagement. Russel, thanks for your time.
   We are still in conversation with Dinesh Balliah about social media. I always, Dinesh, think twice. I read what I’ve written, especially when I am writing when I am very, very annoyed or angry or anxious. I will type it, and I’ll write it and I’ll put it down.

DINESH BALLIAH: If you put it down you should never complete it, because that’s your instinct telling you that something is going to go wrong. And then in a moment of anger, in a fit of rage, step away from the phone. I often tell my students now in the evenings if they are going out drinking it’s not just the car keys they should take away, they should take away the cellphones. It’s incredibly damaging what can go on out there.
   I was very interested in what Russel had to say. I’m quite keen to see if the courts or the judicial system starts to regulate employers in terms of using social media content against a potential employee, because you are not technically part of the company yet, and yet you can’t actually discriminate on the basis of certain things. But this hasn’t come up and it will possibly come up if someone is denied a job because of something on social media. It will be interesting to see if that goes to court.

SIKI MGABADELI: And I suppose Germany has been going through that. It might be the test case.
   But how closely linked is what you say. I represent a specific brand or a company or I work for them – if I’ve either put on my profile that I worked for such and such a company while I haven’t, how closely linked is what I say to …potentially damaging the reputation?

DINESH BALLIAH: It’s incredibly intricate…. Unfortunately that line between our private and professional lives has shifted. There’s no line any more, unfortunately, and it’s a huge shift for people who are used to having a clear separation. I clock out at four o’clock, I go home, I get in the car and what I do in the grocery store, at home, is my private business. Unfortunately that cellphone and smartphone stays with you. It continues. Your phone rings after hours, you are engaging with people all the time. So you are representing your company.
   Unfortunately as much as we don’t want that, we are representing our companies all the time in whatever we are doing, and unfortunately it’s perception. It’s not what we would like people to know and interpret about us, but it’s what they do. They attach that correlation between us, you and SAfm, Moneyweb, whatever it is. They see you, they see the brand. And that’s the problem,. We can’t separate the two, no matter how hard we try. That’s particularly because of social media.

SIKI MGABADELI: So what sort of tips would you give people about managing their online persona?

DINESH BALLIAH: Think about it very, very carefully. What is it that you want to put out there? You are putting a persona. That’s exactly the right word. It’s not you. Even when we are talking about our happy family life on Facebook, we are not putting out everything about our lives, and this is the truth. We are choosing things very carefully. Sometimes we don’t choose the right way. So the only advice I would give to people is just to really think through every little bit of information that you put out there.

SIKI MGABADELI: Absolutely. And I think one of the things – I watch people who will tweet and say, “Oh, I’m doing such and such,” and then you discover actually they weren’t there. And that’s how in some cases in the United States some people have been fired because you called in sick at work and then you forget and you tweet, “I’m having a great time at such-and-such a place”. It’s not two different worlds. It’s the same world.

DINESH BALLIAH: Aside from losing your job, I heard recently this little rumour that SARS was snooping in on people’s cars and things like that. If you buy a new car you want to talk about it on Facebook – and then you declare that you don’t have money when SARS comes knocking at your door. It’s very curious how when you are putting out information in one space you actually forget there’s a huge network. You cannot keep track of that network, which becomes largely anonymous to you. You don’t realise at some point you’ll walk into your school ground and some mom is asking you about what you ate the night before. But you don’t actually realise that she is listening in via your network. And so it’s incredibly difficult for us to keep track of who we are talking to on social media. We think we know – we don’t really know.

SIKI MGABADELI: Do the privacy settings make a difference?

DINESH BALLIAH: Not really. For me the big issue is that the network operates in such a way that if you “like” a photograph somebody else who is connected to somebody else will see it. But what I always tell people is whatever you are putting on social media today, be very, very comfortable that it may not always be private, because we are trusting a third party network to keep our data private. It may not be the case in the next five years. So what you have on Facebook today under privacy settings and so on, if Mr Mark Zuckerberg decides to make it all public, we don’t have the right to say no.

SIKI MGABADELI: Where are you going to find him? Does it help to say re-tweets are not an endorsement … in my personal capacity, and then you re-tweet something about your company and you find yourself in trouble.

DINESH BALLIAH: Your company can take you to court and try and prove that you were very damaging through your actions on social media. Just putting your company name in your profile or your bio makes that connection very clear. They can very well take you to court to prove that there is peer connection, that you represent SAfm and so on. And so putting that up in the bio has no force in law in South Africa. It’s pretty meaningless, but people will still do it. I think the people who put that in their bio usually are thinking about what they are putting on, so I don’t see the point of it there.

SIKI MGABADELI: One of the things you said at the start of this conversation is that we are getting better, but we are thinking a little bit more about the reason for it.

DINESH BALLIAH: These kinds of confessions – the one thing I’m very concerned about is that we are not passing this information on to our kids sometimes, teenagers who are running around with devices. We are not managing those processes. Bear in mind that we never grew up with these things, our parents never had to deal with these kind of parenting issues and so on and so forth. So as much as we are having these conversations and thinking about our Facebook profile, every adult person I know now whom I talk to about Facebook says “I’ve cleaned up my profile”. They are clearly aware of it.
   But I find that that message is not filtering down to the younger generation; it’s a free-for-all because they are young. Unfortunately a 16-year-old does not think about when he needs to apply for a job. He’s pretty much thinking about the party last night and how wasted he got.

SIKI MGABADELI: Please, please talk to your children! Thanks, Dinesh.

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