The University of Tampa has fired a visiting professor who appeared to suggest on Twitter that Hurricane Harvey is karma for Texans voting Republican.
The Washington Post reports that sociology professor Kenneth L. Storey tweeted this past Sunday: “I don’t believe in instant Karma but this kinda feels like it for Texas. Hopefully, this will help them realize the GOP doesn’t care about them.” He was fired two days later.
So, this probably bears repeating, even though it’s 2017: be careful what you post online. Your posts can cost you jobs and job opportunities.
“We condemn the comments and the sentiment behind them, and understand the pain this irresponsible act has caused,” the university said.
Storey later issued an apology and appears to have since deleted his Twitter account. He told The Washington Post that his intention was to speak about the GOP’s denial of climate change and that his intention was not to offend. But with Harvey’s death toll reaching at least 70 so far, and thousands of people being forced to leave their homes, maybe he should have known better.
Regardless of your opinions on free speech issues, and whether you approve or not of Storey’s firing, it’s important to understand how your online behaviour can affect your career.
People get fired over social media posts – commonly professors and journalists – but others also. Even if you’re not beholden to a college or unbiased media outlet, remember that everyone lives in the public eye these days, and everything posted online has the potential to garner attention and become a PR nightmare for you and your employer. And your employer doesn’t want a PR nightmare. You’re probably not worth the trouble.
Sometimes it’s not just about the PR nightmare. Sometimes someone is let go because a post is vile, and the employer discovers they actually want nothing to do with the employee in question.
Whatever you post, know that people are going to see it and that your employer might also see it.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a social media presence. It’s an important element of the job search and career advancement. It just means you have to use common sense about what to post.
Here are just a few more examples of social media posts that cost people jobs, a.k.a. the sort of thing you shouldn’t post.
1. Also, Hurricane Harvey related, on September 5, 2017, a San Antonio waiter was fired from his job at a Rainforest Cafe after posting on Facebook that “cheap evacuees” from affected areas in Texas should “die slow” for not tipping him.
2. In August 2017, James Cobo of Arizona was fired after he responded to a Facebook post about an anti-Trump rally by apparently threatening to drive a truck through the crowd.
“You are all pathetic,” Cobo wrote. “Can’t wait to drive through. 4×4 with push bumper will be sweet in this crowd. I named my lifted truck ‘trumper.’” Cobo insisted the comment was a “joke.” His employer was not amused.
3. In June 2017, University of Delaware professor Kathy Dettwyler was fired after writing on Facebook that Otto Warmbier, a student who was arrested in North Korea and died while in custody, “got exactly what he deserved.”
4. In 2016, Nikolaos Balaskas, a laboratory technologist at York University department of physics and astronomy, was fired after posting anti-Semitic comments and links to anti-Semitic websites on social media.
York University said in a letter that the posts did not comply with school policies, had an adverse impact on the school’s reputation, and denigrated “particular religious faiths including those of the Jewish faith.”
5. In 2015 A Texas teenager was fired from her new job before she even started after tweeting, “Ew I start this (expletive) job tomorrow.
The store owner spotted the post and tweeted back (presumably the next day), “And no… you don’t start the (expletive) job today! I just fired you! Good luck with your no money, no job life.”
6. In 2009, a woman was fired after insulting her boss on Facebook, having forgotten they were Facebook “friends.” The boss took swift action and replied to the post telling the woman not to come in the next day.
7. In 2009, after receiving a job offer from Cisco, a California tech company, Connor Riley tweeted, “Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work.”
The offer was rescinded.
Note that even if you’re not as horrible and/or clueless as some of these people, even something you think is innocuous can get you into trouble. If someone is considering hiring you, and it turns out they disapprove of your behaviour or political views, they can decide not to.
Yes, if you’re fired for a social media post, you might be able to sue, as some have, but unless you’re willing to live and die by the beliefs in question, it might not be worth it.
Avoid potentially inflammatory comments about politics or religion, and avoid jokes about killing people or about their suffering. Avoid insulting your job, boss, or workplace. Also avoid posting photos of yourself doing anything illegal, violent, or distasteful.
As I said, this should be common sense. But as we know, common sense isn’t very common.