Can My Ten-Year-Old Tweet Get Me Fired? A Cautionary Tale

Posted in Articles,Legal News on August 29, 2018

Written by John D. Winer

August 29, 2018

In this day and age, it can be hard to keep tabs on what goes down online, especially when it comes to Twitter. Many of us tend to think of Twitter as a safe space where we can be sarcastic, funny and silly, and sometimes a little too honest. Unless you’ve taken the steps necessary to make your Twitter account private, then anyone in the world can read your tweets. For most people, this doesn’t really matter because the impact is tiny, but sometimes, those tweets can come back to haunt you. Why are old tweets getting people fired? Is it legal?

There have been many examples of people getting fired for posting tweets that range from being racist, sexist, homophobic to being unpatriotic. One of the most striking examples of  how one Tweet can blow up your life is when Justine Sacco, a Director of Corporate Communications for the company IAC, was fired while she was flying to South Africa for a vacation, after she tweeted, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m White!” The tweet blew up and started trending while she was mid-air. When she got off the airplane, she realized she was the number one trending topic on Twitter with the hashtag, #HasJustineLandedYet. Her employer got in touch with her and promptly fired her. She received a lot of hate and backlash, and it made it hard for her to find employment after that.

Recently, filmmaker James Gunn has come under fire due to old tweets of his surfacing. He was fired as director of the film franchise “Guardians of the Galaxy” after tweets of him that talked about pedophilia and rape in 2008 and 2009 came to light. Many actors came to his defense, claiming that people can change, as those tweets were over ten years old. Counter arguments include many people saying that once someone exhibits racist behavior, that means the person is racist. It has brought a debate on Twitter, with many people siding with the filmmaker, and many agreeing with the choice of having him fired.

Not even the President of the United States is safe from having old tweets resurface. When his presidency began, many Twitter users exposed the President, posting screenshots of previous tweets of him slamming the Republican party, then-president Barack Obama, and him contradicting a lot of the views he has today. Although he had used his Twitter account for personal use before his presidency, a lot of his tweets have come under fire with people saying he had been using his account as his personal diary that shows exactly what kind of person he is and what his views are on “certain people.”

Employers want to make sure that the person they hire isn’t a ‘problematic’ employee. Many of them search the profiles of a potential candidate to better analyze the person and see if they are the right person for the job. This has led many companies to search people’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, finding images, posts or tweets that suggest the potential employee might not be the best choice. It is perfectly legal for an employer to terminate you from your position if you show signs of being racist, sexist or in any case, offensive. Many have voiced their opinions, claiming it’s an invasion of privacy and those things aren’t what represent a person or their work ethic and shouldn’t be punished for posting pictures on their social media.

Do past tweets represent the person you are today? Most would say no. But whatever you post online will stay online forever, and anything you might’ve said when you were young or because you were tweeting without using logic can and will come back to haunt you. Many people will agree that people are allowed to change and that a 10-year-old tweet doesn’t represent who they are today.

To protect yourself, the following are some of the actions you can take. First, avoid posting anything that may be considered controversial online. Avoid posting anything work related, especially anything that may be critical towards management. The National Labor Relations Board has stated that employees should not be disciplined if their social media postings are part of collective employee action concerning employees’ terms and conditions of employment. You can post your opinions and views in a way so it keeps your identity a secret. If you are a government employee, you may have stronger legal protections under the First Amendment, which may protect you. If you use social media or the Internet to post opinions, photos, or videos you think your boss may find to be damaging to the employer or too controversial for their tastes, remember the risk you are taking and the consequences you may face.