Sunday, May 12, 2013

Social Media and Public Employees - Part 1

Note: I recently completed a class for my Masters degree on personnel management which required a paper. I selected a topic for the paper based on my interests and experiences. The actual title of the paper is "Social Media and Public Employees: Rights, Responsibilities and common sense" 
Should teachers be able to put whatever they want on Facebook AND friend their students? Should employees be able to use social media to organize protests against their bosses? Does the first amendment apply here? How are managers supposed to be able to deal with this rapidly changing landscape? 

I will post this short in 5 parts, first the introduction... The citations will accompany the last part. 


The intersection of public employees, social media, and the internet is causing friction within government (Thalacker & O’Mara, 2012). The availability of social media platforms and methods for public expression is fueling the sharing of all aspects of people’s lives, including work related activities. Government employers are attempting to exert control over public employee’s use of social media in terms of content and expression. The rights of all citizens, regardless of their employment, are protected by the United States Constitution. The first amendment to the United States Constitution is typically the justification employees use to protect their exercise of expression:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The subject of limits on the freedom of speech is not new. These limits can be as simple as not yelling “fire!” in a crowded movie theater, and as complex as disclosures of sensitive government activities, such as those by Julian Assange with These limits have been debated in society and adjudicated in the courts. With each new technology and capability for expression come new challenges to the first amendment.

Although typical employment with a government does not result in the automatic revocation of first amendment rights to expression, it does place a burden of responsibility on the employee. This responsibility is best guided by policy, clear communication of expectations and common sense on the part of the employee.

NEXT: The rise of the internet and the adoption of social media (everyone is doing it).

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