'Private' Facebook posts can rightly get you canned

Apple's decision to fire employee for breaking company's social media rules garners support from U.K. tribunal

Social networking enthusiasts, take note: Not all companies are as easygoing as Google when they catch their employees airing dirty laundry online. A U.K. tribunal has affirmed that Apple was within its rights in firing an employee for posting unspecified criticisms of the company in private Facebook posts.

According to reports, the controversy erupted when an Apple Store employed named Crisp dissed his employer on Facebook. A Facebook friend printed up the comments -- which were neither public more posting during work hours -- and shared them with the store manager. The manager, in turn, canned Crisp on the grounds of gross misconduct.

Notably, according to the tribunal, Apple does have a policy in place prohibiting employees from using social media to criticize the company, its products, and its partners. The tribunal accepted Apple's argument that such comments would be particularly damaging to the company's well-polished image, which it relies on to be successful.

The case is a perfect reminder to people who value their jobs to be mindful of their companies' social media policies. A prudent individual might exercise discretion when complaining about his or her job in a public-facing rant, whether or not that person's company has any clear policies on record. But this case demonstrates that private posts -- or even private messages send to an individual recipient via Facebook or Google+ -- can come back to haunt you. As Google engineer Steve Yegge demonstrated not long ago, even an IT whiz might accidentally share with the public a diatribe intended for very specific eyes, only to see it spread like wildfire within hours.

In Crisp's case, we're reminding that plenty of Facebookers have "friends" that they ought not trust with sensitive information or controversial opinions. In the world of social media, no post can ever be truly private.

This story, "'Private' Facebook posts can rightly get you canned ," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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