Yesterday I had to part with my company. I was a senior software engineer and team lead, but it turned out we are no longer a good match. I was opposing too much of management decisions on one hand, and many of these decisions were rather irrational at times. It appeared, though, that the person in charge is also reading my tweets. And although I don’t usually tweet workplace-related stuff, I reported to my twitter followers about the last instance of an irrational management decision which our office (at a remote location) didn’t want to follow (I’m keeping it a bit vague, because I wouldn’t like to either expose internal information or defame the company – that’s not the point of this post).
The point is twitter (and other public resources, like this blog). I’m a relatively prominent twitter user in Bulgaria and I tweet a lot – around 30 tweets / day on average (you can tell I’m using social media a lot since I’ve built a tool to use all social networks simultaneously), and I tweet what is currently on my mind. Without any thought of censoring myself. It appears, though, that some bosses are too eager and use google translate (I’m tweeting in my native language) to get an idea of what employees are tweeting about, even if it that costs time (going through hundreds of tweets in a foreign language per week is an odd endeavor). So they found a work-related tweet, and a tweet about me having an interview with another company, and considered these a viable reason to not have me onboard. The feeling was mutual at that point, so leaving the company was the only logical and possible thing – and for the record, it was “on mutual agreement”. The interview with the other company is a usual practice of mine – that way I can be up to date with what’s being looked for in the market, but these details aren’t visible out of the short tweet context. So, you can’t actually rely on the tweets for adequate information about the person’s attitude, even if you read them for some reason. (In fact, I’ve been advertising our open positions using my twitter account, but probably they didn’t dig that far back in my timeline).
So, is it OK to think twice before you tweet? Absolutely not. Apart from contractual (and logical) obligations not to reveal company secrets, you shouldn’t have any other concern about your tweets. Because that’s what freedom of speech is – not to worry that something bad might happen to you if you say something in public. Revealing company secrets is something you should not do even in an offline context, and that’s a separate topic of discussion, but apart from that, expressing what you think, even if it is somehow related to workplace events, must be OK.
Some companies have rules about not showing anything work-related on social media. First, that’s a very broad definition. Is a tweet such as “damn, I’m late for work again” or “I really like debugging concurrent applications” breaking these rules? Even if we assume we should limit the freedom of people to express themselves online, it’s impractical to do that with such rules. “But what if you say your company sucks and thus drive off some potential recruits”. Well, that’s part of the picture – there are tons of forums and platforms for expressing employee opinion about a company, and if you really think your company sucks (but for some reason haven’t left it yet), there’s no way to stop you from defaming it anonymously. My twitter, at least, is not anonymous – I use my real name and a photo. And I will continue disregarding the option that some boss out there might be looking for a reason not to like me. If a company reads your tweets “just in case”, you probably shouldn’t work there anyway. It’s as if a company representative would always sit at the next table in a pub and write down your conversations. Sounds ridiculous, but somehow when things are brought to internet-scale, they stop sounding so ridiculous. The internet scale doesn’t matter in principal – you are free to say what you think and what you do online.
I’m not sure we can have regulations for that – e.g. “a company cannot fire you over a tweet”, because it will officially fire you for another vague reason, or won’t fire you at all, but make you leave. But, as society, we can make that practice “uncool”. Not everyone has the hundreds of options to join a better company in no time, like I do, and watching out for the contents of tweets is something a lot of people are probably doing in order to keep their job. The practice is limiting expression without an actual benefit for companies or employees.
Can we make it “uncool”? I will do my share – from now on, on interviews I’ll ask about the company policy about stalking employees in social media and I’ll state clearly that I don’t intend to censor myself.
“I really like debugging concurrent applications” might point to a mental illness, which may or may not be relevant to your work 🙂
I think making such practices uncool will be very hard without publicly shaming the companies that practice them.
Here is a piece by Jon Evans today that is extremely relevant to your case: http://techcrunch.com/2013/03/30/big-data-could-cripple-facebook/
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