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Friday, January 21, 2011

Posting Your Way to Unemployment...

Ashley Payne - Innocent Fun in Europe
There's sort of an odd split on the way "social media" is interacting with reality.

On the one hand you have this recent decision by the US Supreme Court finding that government contractors and employees may be subjected to having "...information from any source surrounding an employee’s sex life, finances and drug use" be used in a hiring decision (see this article).

At the same time you have an explosion of social media being used to flagrantly talk about all manner of things that go fly directly in the face of "company policy".  For example Ashley Payne claiming she was forced to resign over the photo of her drinking a glass of wine on vacation in Europe according to this WSJ article.

According to numerous Supreme Court decisions there is "no constitutional right to informational privacy".  Now this means that anytime someone tells you that they have any sort of "right to privacy" they are flat out wrong.  The Constitution is all about what rights the people grant to the government, e.g., defense of the country.  The Constitution in no way "grants rights" to people - the assumption is that the "people" are free and can only be restricted by laws the people allow the government to make.

The US Supreme Court, however, has made it quite clear that whatever you put out into "reality" about yourself, such as Facebook posting, Tweeting, and so forth is totally fair game for anyone looking for a reason to create misery in your life: a reason to fire you, make you resign, not hire you in the first place, whatever.

What is interesting to me is that, despite this, people are, at an exponentially growing rate, putting more and more personal information out onto the Internet.  And its not just you putting information out about yourself - its also your friends putting out "tagged photos" of you as well.

So, for example, if I am lying drunk in a pool of my own vomit and urine and my buddy snaps a picture of this and posts it on Facebook my boss might decide I have violated my employment contract or the company's "moral standards" and I get fired.

Of course only a couple of years ago all of this was a non-issue.  Sure my buddy might have had his camera with him, might have snapped the same picture, but there was no place to put it that would cause me potential harm.  Sure, I could go to my boss and confess I had done whatever but in general, as an employer, I have found that sort of behavior to be rare.

Along with this there is the issue of photoshopping a post.  For example, my buddy photoshops the picture before posting it.  Its his picture, he took it, he owns it.  But what if he adds something to the picture that's patently illegal. 

For example, there is this guy (see link).  A former prosecutor who created fake child porn with Photoshop to make a point in a trial - no one disputes the stuff was fake - not even the judge.  Now he is being sued for doing it.

What's happening here is that everyone is now a publisher as well their own content.  That's right - not only can you be your own publisher but you have the chance to be your own content as well.  In fact, you can even be content without your knowledge - just tagged by someone at random.

The bottom line here is that before social media you had no right to privacy.  However, in reality it was almost never an issue.  Pictures and comments are made "off line" and no one, like a boss, ever found out what you were up to unless someone was "out to get you" and kept copies.

Your privacy was kept by the fact that there was no "outlet' for your private information.

However, today that's all changed.  Facebook and others are pure content outlets with no privacy governors at all (save for posting of lewd material which can happen on various alternate adult Facebook-like sites).  If you can be photographed you can be tagged.  If you can be tagged you name will come up on a search and bingo - whatever you were doing is now public information.

The inertia here is with the Facebook side of things.  The courts and laws are woefully far behind - by this I mean that laws and criminality were not really designed to have a fully color digital stream of consciousness and activity beamed to employers and law enforcement.

The constitution says that you have liberty - which you do - to act like whatever kind of jackass you might want to be.  Implicit in that liberty, though, was the notion that if you wanted to act like a jackass you didn't go down to the local police and do it in front of them.

However, the eye of the law is now in every cell phone, camera, video recorder, everywhere.  And its only a Facebook or Twitter away from costing you your job, a spouse, a career, a degree, whatever.  Best of all, you don't even have control over what's being published about you...

This is what life must be like for celebrities.

Isn't this fun? 

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