Social media dos and don’ts

I have written about CV etiquette before (https://www.all4women.co.za/1581990/money/careers/tips-for-writing-a-winning-cv), but it is perhaps more important than ever for people to be aware of how social media can affect their reputations – in both personal and professional capacities.

First, let’s tackle what seems to be a prevailing societal belief: the right to complain. With the rise of ‘consumer activism’ comes an enduring myth that what you say on social media will not have any repercussions. No, you cannot say whatever you like – not even anonymously, and even with the right to free speech enshrined in our constitution. You can be sued for reputational damage if your comments are found to be defamatory (i.e. they damage the reputation of a company or individual).

In terms of South African law, you need only tick three boxes to be sued for defamation:

  1. Your comments must be broadcast publicly (regardless of how many people see it – it can be one person, or several thousand). Once your content is published on a social media platform, it is considered to be in the public domain.
  2. They need to refer to the company or person directly or indirectly, and in a manner which makes them easily identifiable.
  3. It needs to damage their reputation (it does not matter whether your comments are true or untrue).

The golden rule is to avoid saying anything that could be interpreted in a way that proves you meet all the criteria above. Do not post in anger – once your opinion is out there, chances are that at least one person (that’s one too many) will see it.

The impression you leave on social media is a lasting one, and a single action or post may have severe and unintended consequences. Think about all the racist videos that have gone viral: A ‘private’ rant you have among your friends can quickly escalate – we need only cast our minds back to the likes of Penny Sparrow, Vicki Momberg, Adam Catzavelos, and Kessie Nair for local examples.

The concept of ‘privacy’ on social media is farcical. If you have a Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn account, you are in the public eye. According to the 2018 South African Social Media Landscape Report, there are around 16 million Facebook users (up two million in just two years) – which accounts for around 29% of our total population – eight million Twitter users, and six million LinkedIn users.  Current and/or potential employers have access to these profiles, and, if you aren’t careful about what you say, or how you use these platforms, you need to be.

A word of caution too about direct messages (DMs): just as your social media posts have longevity, so do your DMs. Being sarcastic in response to your employer’s query is equivalent to being sarcastic in person, and you have just immortalised that in a message you may not be able to erase. In a digital world, the best rule of thumb is to think before you hit send.

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