May 27, 2011

Friday Faux Pas: Teacher Loses Tenure Over Facebook Postings


Editor’s Note:This is part of an occasional series called Friday Faux Pas, which highlights missteps in social media by health-related organizations and/or their employees.  In this specific case we felt it was important to highlight the following story even though it doesn't involve a health-related organization. We believe social media are overwhelmingly a force for good, but we’re not blind to potential problems. This series helps maintain the balance, and in looking at each faux pas we want to highlight how it might have been prevented and also how the organization responded. recently reported our latest faux pas involving a Bradenton, Florida high school teacher. This example proves that who you "friend" and privacy settings are critical on social networks.

The story is about a high school drama teacher who has been suspended without pay since last October, after he used inappropriate images, discussed drinking alcohol and used profanity through acronyms on his Facebook page. In this specific case, the teacher had "friended" about 120 students at the high school who were able to see the questionable content. The school board voted to remove the teacher's tenure and suspended him, but for the time being he was able to retain his job.


This faux pas is yet another example of why proper and continual training in the use of social media tools is essential for all professionals. When it comes to online relationships via social media, one needs to take special care in selecting who they "friend" and interact with. Education and proper use of privacy setting are also key when dealing with social networks such as Facebook.

The teacher in this case made his Facebook profile private after he discovered students saw his posts, but the damage had been done, proving that what you post online rarely can be deleted. The high school's Superintendent, Tim McGonegal, was not pleased with the school board decision and sought that the board members permanently terminate the teacher for his improprieties. Board Chairman Robert Gause and member Karen Carpenter didn't believe that the teacher should have been fired for his Facebook postings since they felt the teacher made amends by privatizing his settings. The school also did not have a formal social media policy in place at the time these events took place.

This would be a good time for you to review your organization’s social media guidelines. Do your guidelines contain literature regarding who is and isn't appropriate to "friend?" Proper training and education on privacy settings on social networks is also critical for organizations.

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