Paris Brown was a pioneer for her generation, becoming the first youth police and crime commissioner for Kent in Britain on April 3, 2013. More than 160 young people vied for the position that sought to bridge the gap between teenagers and the police. Paris, who essentially became a pseudo-cop, underwent a background check as part of a rather thorough recruitment process. This process however, failed to delve into Paris’ online actions.
A few days after Paris’ appointment, the Daily Mail, published several tweets in which Paris bragged about her drinking and drug use; criticized local pizzeria employees for not speaking proper English; and made racist and homophobic comments.
Public outrage ensued, and members of the British Parliament called for Paris’ resignation. Paris defended herself by stating that the tweets were taken out of context, and that she was “wildly exaggerating” on Twitter. Despite Kent Police and Crime Commissioner Ann Barnes’ supportive statement that Paris’ tweets were not unlike the posts of many other teenagers on social media, Paris resigned.
While both Paris and Ms. Barnes regard this incident as a lesson learned, it is another reminder to employees that their conduct on social media will follow them, just as much as anything else that may show up on a background check.
Employers are more aware that social media can be a great tool for researching potential candidates. Even after recruitment, social media posts can be a reflection on the employer, particularly if made on behalf of or about the employer or fellow employees. Employees need to be aware that their life on social media is, therefore, not necessarily divorced from their professional life, and their conduct in the former can lead to significant consequences in the latter.
This doesn’t mean that it’s open season for employers, who still need to ensure that they do not dive so far into an employee’s social media world as to breach the employee’s privacy. While privacy settings can provide a layer of protection, being social media responsible remains the surest way to avoid professional consequences.
In recognition of the link between social media and the workplace, employers are encouraged to prepare social media policies and provide training to employees so that workplace expectations with respect to social media use and misuse are clear for both parties.