Why you should be careful what you say on Facebook

Thirteen people have paid a serious price for what they have done on Facebook. Most of us have been tagged in photos when we’d rather not have been, or had the odd inappropriate comment from a friend on our wall. But these 13 people have lost their jobs. They all worked for Virgin Atlantic and had discussed safety standards and said some less than polite things about passengers on Facebook.

The conversations had been between employees of the airline in a Facebook group. Among the many issues they discussed on the group they expressed concerns about some of the aircraft and apparently called some of the airline’s customers both cockroaches and chavs. They were fired for bringing the company into disrepute.

We can’t know the exact details of who discussed what, most of us only hear this news second-hand (at best) and have never seen the actual group where the discussions were had. But what we can learn is this – we should be careful what we say on Facebook.

Social networks are built on networks of friends. I have 175 friends on Facebook and my experience of the site is centred on this group of individuals. I get updates on their events, photos and statuses. My Facebook experience is limited to a fairly small group of people. But we are actually part of something much bigger and much more public. Conversations that, to those taking part, may be between a small group of their friends are actually much more public than this. This is how social networks work – bringing together small but inter-meshed groups of friends into a significantly larger group.

Now we’ve probably all talked about work gossip, probably with a small group of friends, privately in a bar or over dinner. What these Virgin employees did may have felt just like that – they were in a group with their friends sharing work gossip. The problem is that unlike that secluded table in the bar or restaurant, they were talking in a very public place. Perhaps the most public of places. This was their mistake.

Because of the nature of social networks, it is easy for us to believe that we are sharing our thoughts, photos and opinions just with our friends. The truth is that we’re probably sharing them with a much larger and more public group. We’ve posted before about social media manners, and this episode is a great example of how we need to take active control over what we discuss and what we don’t discuss online, who we’re friends with and who we choose not to be in our various social networks.

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