Just in the last few years, social media firings have become commonplace in the pages of local news outlets. Horror stories of employees getting fired for singular tweets circulate often in the workforce, leaving many individuals curious about what an employer may find inappropriate. As social media continues to redraw the boundaries of individuals’ personal and professional lives, it’s worth asking what is considered inappropriate content from an employer’s perspective?
Unfortunately, the answer isn’t always so clear.
Refer to company social media policy first
The term “inappropriate” is highly subjective and varies from employer to employer, industry to industry, culture to culture. Your first step in determining what an employer finds offensive is to refer to the company’s social media policy for guidance. This kind of policy can usually be found in an employee handbook (if not, it may be worth asking HR about it). A social media policy is usually intended to complement standard company policy and function as an extension into the digital sphere. It is reasonable to expect that if a type of behavior is going to raise red flags in the office, it’s probably going to do so online as well.
For example, an employer in a highly regulated industry may stipulate “no cannabis” in their social media policy in order to align with the company’s drug testing policy. In contrast, another employer with a less regulated, cannabis-friendly company culture may not have stipulations on off-duty cannabis use, but they may have a zero-tolerance policy in other areas, such as sexual harassment.
Again, keep in mind that every company views and handles content differently. Best practice is to stay informed and not make assumptions based on company culture.
“Inappropriate” can mean a variety of things
At Social Intelligence, we categorize flagged content into four broad filters: intolerance, violence (including threats), potentially illegal activity, and sexually explicit content. Additionally, any type of post can fall into these categories, including text posts, images, videos, memes, third-party URLs, shared content, or reposted content. Other types of content that may fall under the inappropriate category may include company-specific content. For example, trade secrets, photos of minors, or photos of fieldwork are all types of content that could raise flags in various industries, respectively.
In some, more extreme cases, local news outlets have reported social media scandals based on pages or groups that an individual associated with. Two years ago, a football player was caught following pornography accounts on Twitter. Last year, 70 Customs and Border Patrol agents were investigated for being members of a Facebook group containing a wellspring of racist, misogynist, and sexually explicit posts.
So where’s the line?
If an employer has ordered a social media background check from a screening service like Social Intelligence, you are entitled to a copy of that report--just like any other background check. However, even with a hiring report in hand, there’s no clear answer to this question, unless the employer has explicitly stated clear boundaries in their social media policy. Fortunately, a flagged post does not necessarily mean imminent termination or retraction of an offer letter. Oftentimes, inappropriate content is an opportunity to start a conversation, especially if the issue comes up during the hiring process. There are many avenues this process can take, depending on how an employer views the type or severity of content. Some employers are content with simply asking a candidate to remove the offending post. Other employers might use inappropriate content as a “teachable moment” as a part of the onboarding process. However, no company handles social media in the exact same way, and it is reasonable for an employer to expect a degree of professionalism from a candidate, even on social media.
Still nervous about content? Best practices like digital hygiene are a great place to start--especially for individuals that use their social media as a portfolio or professional public presence. Private social media is also another option. However, that still doesn’t eliminate chances of inappropriate content getting back to your employer (read more about that here).