Mays Business School

Daily Archives: October 28, 2011

But that’s my freedom of speech!

Freedom of speech is one of our cherished rights as Americans, guaranteed to us in the Constitution. However, what often is left unmentioned is that while we have freedom of speech, we also have the right to remain silent and we must accept the consequences that result from what we say. Essentially, we are accountable for the things we say.

It seems that since the 60s, the concept of freedom of speech has been expanded far beyond the original intent to include just about anything from flag burning and obscenities to rude hand gestures, profanity and artwork that normally would be considered anything but art. Whatever we say or do is all too often excused under the guise of our freedom of speech, no matter how egregious or inane. Unfortunately, some of those same claimants seldom, if ever, acknowledge that there are consequences to what they say or do and sometimes the consequences can be, shall we say, undesirable.

That is particularly true in the world of instant communications and the social media.

The advent of the internet and online social media has opened infinite virtual avenues for expanded individual expression and presence, more opportunities for each of us to express our freedom of speech. This blog is one such expression.

Facebook, Twitter and similar sites allow individuals to lay their life out for the world to see, sometimes in seemingly excruciating and unneeded or unwanted detail. Most people understand the limitations they should place on their public persona however on occasion someone will post a picture, upload an article, link to a website, or engage in a commentary or opinion that, in the end, could have serious negative professional repercussions. Far too many seem oblivious to the backlash.

The most important fact to clearly understand is this: nothing is private on the internet. If you put something “out there” in the public domain, whether it’s a twitter comment, an inappropriate picture on Facebook or link to a profanity laced article (which will likely be perceived as saying you agree) it’s public and thus fair game. It becomes part of your public image, the perception of who you are, what you believe.

While not every manager or HR office admits it, most companies will include a search of a candidate’s online presence/image as part of the screening or “consideration” process. What is on the internet, albeit that you may believe it to be personal or private, is there for the world to see. It is in the “public” domain, the operative word being “public”.

If there is any doubt about the importance of your public image and whether you can keep what is on the internet secret from others, just look around you. Politicians have had to resign, pictures transmitted via Twitter and posted on Facebook found their way to every online and print source in the world, everything seems to end up on YouTube, and numerous public figures have had to apologize for comments made on line that later were published for the world to read. Twitter comments and quick retorts have later proven an embarrassment to their authors.

Can you yell fire in a crowded theater? Yes, but you will be arrested; there is a consequence to your decision to do so.

Can you post pictures on Facebook of yourself in compromising or questionable situations, doing unacceptable things or acting in a rude or lewd manner? Of course you can. However, should a potential employer see that as a reason not to interview or hire you because that isn’t what they expect of their management, they are free to make that decision.

Can your potential future employer assume, based on your posted pictures or comments, that you have the potential to be a problem in the workplace? Of course they can.

Can a hiring manager, after seeing your rants about your present/past employer assume you may be a less than desirable employee? Yes, they can.

If you have a link on your website to a profanity laced article, can a recruiter or hiring manager decide that this shows poor judgment and lack of maturity? Without a doubt!

Every hiring manager seeks to minimize the risk of a hire. You are looking for the best possible person for the opening and if you have any information that raises a red flag or causes you to rethink a candidate’s viability, you are going to take it into account. Anything that suggests immaturity, lack of common sense, a propensity to be indiscrete, opinions or views contrary to the norm or that business, lewdness, inappropriate behavior, or lack of respect for others is going to raise red flags. You take any potential warning signs seriously; failing to do so can have serious repercussions later for a company and the hiring manager.

You certainly do have a lot of rights in this country but keep in mind the potential consequences of exercising some of those rights.

Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.