To the feisty lady on the bike… you’re fired!

Flipped: Briskman’s Twitter followers have jumped from 24 to 17,000 since her protest. © Getty

Should companies be allowed to dismiss you for your social media persona? Juli Briskman lost her job after using a photo of her gesturing rudely at Trump’s motorcade as her Twitter profile.

“He was passing by and my blood just started to boil. I’m thinking, DACA recipients are getting kicked out. He pulled ads for open enrolment in Obamacare. Only one third of Puerto Rico has power. I’m thinking, he’s at the damn golf course again.”

Juli Briskman was cycling in Virginia when Donald Trump’s vast motorcade of armoured cars passed by. As a “gut reaction”, she gave the convoy the middle finger. A photographer travelling with the motorcade snapped Briskman’s picture and the image quickly spread around the world.

Trump’s opponents hailed her a hero. Briskman then made the photo her profile picture on Twitter.

Aware of the growing media storm, she decided to come clean to her employers, Akima, where she worked in communications.

Her bosses then called her into a meeting and gave her the dreaded words: “We’re separating from you”.

Facebook has around two billion monthly users, and Twitter around 330 million. It has never been easier to discover what someone thinks about politics, society, cats and football.

And so, in recent years, an addition to many job application forms has read something like this: “Please provide links to any social media accounts you may have”. Stories frequently emerge about people being fired for what they put on social media.

A professor at the University of Tampa was fired for tweeting that Hurricane Harvey was “karma” for Texans who had voted for Donald Trump. In 2015, a woman working in a day-care centre was unsurprisingly sacked for posting on Facebook: “I absolutely hate working at day care. I just really hate being around a lot of kids.”

The laws around this are complex and variable. Virginia, for example, has “at will” employment laws, meaning private-sector employers can fire people for any reason.

Proposed EU laws will require employers to have a valid professional reason to check potential employees’ social media. But many believe companies will simply ignore such legislation.

Should companies care about what you put on social media?

Nowhere to hide

“Yes we should”, say many bosses. Employees are representatives of their companies at all times. Writing for CBS News, Suzanne Lucas says that “the more restrictions government places on terminating employees, the more hesitant companies are to hire.” Dodgy posts indicate poor judgment, which is a good reason not to employ somebody.

“This is extremely sinister”, reply others. A person’s political views have nothing to do with how good they are at their job. There needs to be a firm separation between work and personal lives. Almost everyone has something potentially incriminating on their Facebook or Twitter accounts. Firing all of them would wreck the economy.

You Decide

  1. Should companies be allowed to fire you for what you post on social media?
  2. Are you going to delete anything on Facebook before going for your first job interview?

Activities

  1. Write a set of guidelines for what young people should and should not post on social media.
  2. Role play: split into pairs, with one person playing an employer, and the other person playing an employee who has written something controversial on Facebook. How do you deal with the situation?

Some People Say...

“Control is what gives you privacy.”

Michael Douglas

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Juli Briskman, the cyclist who was photographed giving Donald Trump’s motorcade the middle finger, was fired from her job for making the viral photograph her profile picture on social media. This kind of thing has become a frequent occurrence as social media use has grown, with states and countries still grappling with different ways to judge the practice from a legal perspective.
What do we not know?
In just a few decades’ time, almost everyone in the world will have a rich social media history, with more status updates and tweets for employers to wade through than ever. So we do not know whether this trend will increase, decrease or stop completely.

Word Watch

DACA
Short for “Deferred Action for Child Arrivals”, DACA was a policy that allowed some people who had illegally entered the United States as children, to be deferred from deportation and to be given work permits. The policy was scrapped by the Trump administration in September.
Golf course
Trump has visited golf clubs 73 times since becoming president, playing golf at least 35 times. In his eight years in charge, Barack Obama played golf 333 times.
Motorcade
Trump’s motorcade frequently involves up to 50 vehicles and costs over $3,000 per minute.
Hailed her a hero
Some people jokingly tweeted that she should run in the 2020 election, while several late-night comedy hosts also picked up the story.
On Twitter
She also made the photo her cover image on both Twitter and Facebook.
Texans who had voted for Donald Trump
Texas has historically been one of the most solidly Republican states in the country, and it voted for Trump by 52.6% to 43.4% for Hillary Clinton. However, Harris County, where Houston is located, voted for Clinton, like most big urban areas.