What you post on social media matters to employers

UC social media expert Jeffrey Blevins comments on the pitfalls of posting

The U.S. government must abide by a citizen’s First Amendment right to free speech, to include social media posts, but your employer and other private institutions don’t have to let you say what you want, says Jeffrey Blevins, a professor in UC’s Department of Journalism and School of Public and International Affairs.

Blevins, a prolific social media researcher, was recently quoted in a healthcare/risk management trade magazine that covered the topic of four nurses who were fired for making a TikTok video deemed disparaging to patients and the hospital.

The 52-second video, filmed at work, was part a 2022 social media trend — “What gives you the ick?" — surrounding things that annoyed people at work or life in general. The four obstetrics nurses complained about common patient behaviors, such as asking how much the baby weighed when it had immediately been placed in their arms.  

Jeffrey Blevins, PhD,
Professor, Dept. of Journalism and School of Public and International Affairs

Jeffrey Blevins body of research focuses on impact of social media on the user and the receiver of information. Photo/UC Marketing + Creative/Andrew Higley

“I have to remind my students that there’s no such thing as free speech on private property,” Blevins says, pointing out that the hospital system was well within its rights to fire the nurses.

Even if the video had been recorded outside the workplace, he says, the hospital would have still been with its right — as there have been many legal precedents for employers firing people for what they posted on their private accounts outside the workplace. 

The punishing effects of social media posts extend to other areas of life as well. For example, several college bound students have lost scholarships for remarks and behaviors on social media that the academic institution of their choice considered unsavory. 

Regardless of whether the poster's intentions were good or bad, Blevins says, “we live in a media saturated world — and if you say or do things in public, there's a likelihood that someone might capture in on their phone and share it.”

That can mean posts from a year ago, a decade ago or more.

person typing on laptop with cell phone opened to social media

Person working on laptop with social media opened on cell phone. Photo/Unsplash.

“I don't think it's a matter of 'should' people be punished for social media posts several years ago; it's a matter of ‘they are’ experiencing the consequences for some of those posts. The reason being is that there is no law governing how private business, employers, etc. interpret those posts.  That may be an incredibly difficult lesson to learn, but it is happening.” 

While no one can go back in time and take those posts back, Blevins says, “we need to focus on our social media behavior going forward.” He advises evaluating past posts and perhaps even deleting them, although that's not foolproof.

He also suggests talking to kids and young adults about the potential consequences for what they say and do in public or around other people.

The real difficulty, he says, is that “none of us can control how others might interpret what we post.”

“It's up to each of us to try and think through how others might misinterpret or be offended by what we post.” 

Featured image courtesy of Unsplash. 

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