Social Networking: The New Whistleblower

14 July 2011

In what could be called a first in Australia, the Federal Court has held a company and its sole director responsible for statements made by third parties on Facebook and Twitter fan pages.  It is not the first time, however, that we have seen comments and postings on Facebook and social media sites land people in the hot seat.

Crossing over to Europe, we see jurors wreaking havoc in Court, with one causing the collapse of a multimillion dollar drug trial after contacting the defendant through Facebook, apparently detailing the jury’s deliberations and throwing in a few LOLs for good measure.  The juror received an 8-month jail sentence for her efforts. 

A UK travel agent was fired for calling a co-worker a “brown-nosing cow” on Facebook, and a manager of a pub was dismissed for making inappropriate comments on Facebook about her customers.

Our transpacific friends in the US and Canada have been doing their best to keep up, where a defence lawyer who was seeking a new trial copied the most part of his statement from Wikipedia, and was found out by the judge.  No, he didn’t get the new trial.  A juror predicted a guilty verdict on Facebook before the trial was over. Three prison guards were fired after posted comments about abusing inmates came to attention of their superiors. 

Two employees in Canada were dismissed after posting Facebook comments which referred to their supervisor as “a complete jackass” and suggesting that their employer was staffed by “crooks” that were out to “hose” customers. 

And a University professor in the US, with a less than politically correct sense of humour, was suspended after posting on Facebook that she wanted to hire a hitman to kill her students, and that depending on the day of the week she might just kill them all herself.

The Book, Twitter, Wiki, and now even search engine giant Google is weighing in with Google+, these mediums used to increase connectivity and expand knowledge are leading to more and more serious consequences for those who use them without taking the upmost care.

Attraction to the use of social networking sites as a form of marketing for businesses is growing, and becoming seemingly irresistible for some.  However, businesses must be vigilant about material posted on and the content of such sites or fan pages, particularly in the context of the new Australian Consumer law, which expressly prohibits misleading and deceptive conduct, and misleading testimonials.