This is not a warning about a virus on Facebook or Twitter, but a disturbing tendency in South Africa of a legal nature:

You would assume that your Twitter or Facebook profile is your own personal business and that you can share your feelings openly here with your friends. However, you should be very careful what you say on your social network profiles, as it could have unexpected consequences.

Recently there have been a number of disciplinary cases against employees [but not within the university…yet!] who made negative comments about their employers on Facebook and Twitter, because they assumed that the use of social media was a private affair.

Hanno Bucksteg, litigant of Solidarity Legal Services, says employees have a fiduciary duty towards their employers, which means that an employee must protect the interests of their employer. “If an employee writes insulting pieces about the employer or publishes information that is the employer’s own, including trade secrets, the employee could face dismissal and/or the employer could obtain an interdict to stop such action.” He adds that this duty also means that an employee may not make false or derogatory claims about colleagues.

[This of course has a wider implication for students at the Health Sciences Faculty, with the minefield of medical ethics, patient-doctor confidentiality etc]

The publication of insulting or negative opinions on social media platforms ties in with slander and defamation. Facebook and Twitter users should be very careful with what they publish. An employee/student can deliver fair comment by reason of his right to freedom of speech, but this right should not be abused by divulging confidential information or making false claims which could be detrimental to the employer.

However, there is no need to close your social network profiles for fear of being dismissed. Making negative comments about your employer over the telephone can also land you in trouble. It is advisable to limit the use of social media at work, however. You do not necessarily want all your colleagues to know what goes on in your private life. You might publish information or photographs on you social network profiles that are not suitable for all your colleagues to see. Instead of befriending your colleagues on Facebook, create a professional presence on LinkedIn and invite your colleagues to join your professional network.

Social media could hold certain benefits for you in the labour market. Make sure that your professional viewpoints and principles come across clearly on your social network profiles and look professional. Many employers have a look at potential employees’ social network profiles or other information that is available on them on the Internet before inviting them for an interview.

Therefore, apart from not making negative comments and false claims about your employer, you should maintain a limited, secure and professional presence on the Internet.