10/02/14 467 W - + 5 - 3 And Another Story About Social Media | Houston, Facebook, Rant

Arson investigator accused of posting obscene references to Islam on personal Facebook page.

That's the title from this Houston Chronicle story by Allan Turner, but there are others including this pair from Curt Varone and Dave Statter:

The Statter911 posting is longer, and contains excerpts and links from multiple sources. He's also participating in discussions of the story on the Statter911 Facebook page. (Here's one such thread there with some strong reader opinions on the issue. Plus some of Dave's trademark humor.)

But let's go back to the headlines. These headlines interest me, because they (and others) are so distinctly different:

Depending upon the headline that you read, and the specific words therein, you might have a different reaction. Let me simplify that. Your personal reaction might vary to these headlines. Just as reactions to this story are going to vary.

Social media. Facebook. These are very personal things, when used for personal reasons. Duh, right? But I submit that such "individualized perspectives" are one of the reasons that public servants find themselves "in trouble."

Did you read one or more of these headlines and shrug? Or dismiss their validity to "political correctness?" Or pump a fist in the air, because of your feelings toward the subject matter?

You get the idea.

With social media technologies, it gets complicated when you try to square "free speech" with concepts such as "my personal page" or "that's when I'm off-duty." And as this story yet again exemplifies, there can be career consequences.

Readers, your thoughts?


Postscript, added after I've re-read this thing a couple times. Needs a closer or a concluding statement. Maybe a piece of advice. Yada, yada, yada, and then it ends. That's it, Legeros? Can't you give us something to work with, to help us going forward?

Okay, how about this...

And by looking at ourselves, and our personal reactions, the need for policies and procedures is firmly reinforced. We're all different people, both in person and online. We have different perceptions of what's good versus what's bad with social media. Some folks have a great inner compass. Others need a framework to help their thinking. Build a policy, if you don't have one. Educate about your policy, if you haven't lately.

That work?

Hmmm. I’m conflicted, having dealt with something similar before.

On the one hand, if it’s his personal page (be it facebook, or personal website, tumblr, twitter, whatever) then it’s his personal view. Whether you agree with it or not, you can’t deny the man a right to his opinion.

On the flip side, anything anyone says could always be construed as an unofficial opinion/comment/verdict from your employer – whether you mean it to be or not, someone somewhere will always add 2 and 2 and come up with 11. Even more so if you’re in a public facing role (regular fire, emt, cops, spokesman for local school board/hospital/whatever).

That’s not to say you can’t have opinions, but you have to be extremely careful in the manner and audience you express that opinion to. And even then be prepared for someone to mis-understand or take it out of context. If you can’t handle the possibility of that then either don’t say it at all, or go get a job where expressing that opinion doesn’t matter so much. Now obviously that’s not the “correct” answer since we would hope that anything we say on a personal level is not construed to be coming from our employer, but that’s the state of the world we live in.
Paul - 10/02/14 - 13:43

Yes. That’s his personal opinion on his personal page. Nope, you can’t deny the man a right to his opinion. It’s his freedom of speech, as it should be.

But we don’t have to employ you either.
Jeff (Email) - 10/02/14 - 15:04

Give me a break, what I post on my Facebook wall doesn’t impact my job, or ability therein, right?


In this case, it’s a fire investigator in trouble for “hate speech.” Imagine him on the witness stand, for an arson prosecution. If the defendant is a Muslim, would a jury believe he might have behaved with bias?

Is that a stretch? Don’t think so.
Legeros - 09/17/14 - 09:26

Remember personal info?

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