Professionalism/Professionalism in Social Media

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According to Merriam Webster social media is a form of electronic communication (as Web sites for social networking and microblogging) through which users creates online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (as videos). Currently there are 2.96 billion monthly active users on Facebook,[1] more than 400 million active users on Twitter,[2] and Linkedin has more than 220 million total members.[3] With this explosion of social media usage it is more important than ever for people to conduct themselves professionally on these sites. This chapter aims to explore what it means to be professional in this new setting.

Company Policies[edit | edit source]

As more unprofessionalism is occurring on social media, companies have begun creating policies to regulate their employees use in hopes of stopping the unprofessionalism that reflects badly on the company. Even the government has tried to create a policy where their employees can still use social media but with limits to protect the security and confidentiality of work. According to the memorandum by the Deputy Secretary of Defense “ensure that the information posted is relevant and accurate, and provides no information not approved for public release, including personally identifiable information (PII)” [4] To look at a plethora of other companies' social media policies you can go to the Policy Database

In general, a company has discretion of what is denoted as acceptable or appropriate and may act accordingly. However, it is largely a case by case basis. Was the post made on company property? Does it relate to or involve the company you work for? If so, are the claims misleading or well informed? What are the company policies you have agreed to? Does your state denote labor laws regarding the issue? [5] In cases that require additional input, the National Labor Relations Board is an agency responsible for enforcing U.S. labor laws in relation to employee rights. [6]

There have also recently been cases of companies requiring access to the social media used by their employees or potential hires. [7] Often, this is coming in the form of requesting employees’ passwords to sites like Facebook and Twitter. While the goal may often be to protect the brand or the image of the company, this can cause serious problems. In some places, gathering information from an employee’s social networking profile may lead to legal cause of action. Moreover, some social networking sites (e.g., Facebook) explicitly prohibit the sharing of one’s password in their terms of service.[8] In 2012, a complaint regarding this situation from a Maryland corrections officer led to the first state legislation prohibiting employers access to employees social media accounts. [9] Requiring an employee to reveal such a password would constitute a violation of those terms. In response to these concerns, legislation is starting to appear prohibiting companies from requesting social networking passwords.[10]

Facebook[edit | edit source]

Facebook, owned by Meta, has outlined a Facebook Community Standards, which describes what is and isn't allowed on Facebook. Their goal is to create a place for expression and give people a voice. They want people to talk openly about the issues that matter to them only if it's newsworthy and in the public's interest. They may also remove content that uses ambiguous, implicit language, or goes against their standards. Facebook's commitment to expression is paramount, but they also recognize that the internet creates new and increased opportunities for abuse.

To limit expression, they have the following values:

Authenticity: We want to make sure the content people see on Facebook is authentic. We believe that authenticity creates a better environment for sharing, and that's why we don't want people using Facebook to misrepresent who they are or what they're doing.

Safety: We're committed to making Facebook a safe place. We remove content that could contribute to a risk of harm to the physical security of persons. Content that threatens people has the potential to intimidate, exclude or silence others and isn't allowed on Facebook.

Privacy: We're committed to protecting personal privacy and information. Privacy gives people the freedom to be themselves, choose how and when to share on Facebook and connect more easily.

Dignity: We believe that all people are equal in dignity and rights. We expect that people will respect the dignity of others and not harass or degrade others. [11]

Facebook's Community Standards apply to everyone. They have two ways of managing content. One is to ban the content altogether. The other is one that requires additional information or context to enforce on, content that is allowed with a warning screen or content that is allowed but can only viewed by adults aged 18 and older. Managed content includes violence and criminal behavior, safety, objectional content, integrity and authenticity, respecting intellectual property, and content-related requests and decisions. Each of these sections have subcategories and they can be at the bottom of the Meta Transparency Center page.

These standards are based on feedback from people and the advice of experts in fields like technology, public safety, and human rights. In order to make sure every user's voice is valued, the standards try to include different views and beliefs, especially from people and communities that might be overlooked or marginalized.

TikTok[edit | edit source]

TikTok has eight guidelines among three categories aiming to promote a safe community environment on its platform.


  • Prevent harm
  • Enable free expression


  • Foster civility
  • Respect local context
  • Champion inclusion
  • Protect individual privacy


  • Provide transparency and consistency
  • Be fair and just[12]

Looking further into some of the rules, TikTok's guideline to foster civility requires "acknowledging everyone’s inherent dignity and conducting ourselves as if we were face-to-face."[12] This can be interpreted as suggesting that individuals should conduct themselves online with the same professionalism as they would in person.

Twitter[edit | edit source]

Twitter's guidelines follow similar values to other social media platforms, such as Facebook, despite not sharing ownership. Their goal is to "ensure all people can participate in the public conversation freely and safely."[13] These values are safety, privacy, and authenticity. Safety guidelines protect against violent speech, promotion of violent entities, harassment, hateful conduct, furtherance of illegal activities, and more. Privacy protections address the sharing of others' private information, including images and account information. Authenticity guidelines prohibits deception of identities, copyright infringement, and more.

Yelp[edit | edit source]

Yelp aims to increase its reliability as a review platform by instating professionalism rules. If Yelp can promote their service as an unbiased platform, it reflects positively on Yelp as a trusted source of information.

These rules, imposed on users, regard:

Relevance: Please make sure your contributions are appropriate to the forum. For example, reviews aren’t the place for rants about political ideologies, a business’s employment practices, extraordinary circumstances, or other matters that don’t address the core of the consumer experience.

Inappropriate content: Colorful language and imagery are fine, but there’s no place for threats, harassment, lewdness, hate speech, or other displays of bigotry.

Conflicts of interest: Your contributions to Yelp should be unbiased and objective. For example, you shouldn’t write reviews of your own business or employer, your friends’ or relatives’ business, your peers or competitors in your industry, or businesses in your networking group. Businesses should never ask customers to write reviews.

Privacy: Don’t publicize people’s private information. For instance, please don’t post close-up photos or videos of other patrons without their permission, and don’t post other people’s full names unless you’re referring to someone who is commonly referred to by their full name.

Promotional content: Don’t post promotional material unless it’s in connection with a Yelp advertising product and through a Business Account. Let’s keep the site useful for consumers and not overrun with commercial noise from every user.

Intellectual property: Don’t swipe content from other sites, users, or businesses. You’re a smart cookie, so write your own copy and share your own photos and videos.[14]

Reviews that do not meet these guidelines may be subject to removal, determined solely by an algorithm, Yelp's "Recommendation Software."[15] However, most reviews are not removed completely from the website, but are simply obscured and no longer factor into a business' star rating. These reviews are still viewable, however, only by following a link at the very bottom of a business' page. Yelp also shares the reasons review may be completely removed, often flagged based on user reports

  1. The reviewer has an apparent conflict of interest
  2. The review doesn't focus on the reviewer's own consumer experience
  3. The review includes inappropriate material

Examples of Professional Behavior[edit | edit source]

While it can be remarkably easy to act or react unprofessionally in a social media setting, this does not need to be the case. Instead, social media offers a unique approach to professionalism that some are already finding advantageous. However, this is not always the case.

Facebook[edit | edit source]

These examples show two cases of people using Facebook unprofessionally as defined by their employers. Both of these cases were highly controversial with many people believing that the employers went too far.

Ashley Payne[edit | edit source]

A 24 year old teacher named Ashley Payne was forced to resign from her teaching position at a high school in Barrow County, Georgia in 2009. Ashley and some of her colleagues went on a summer vacation trip to Europe. In Europe some of the places she visited included the Guinness brewery in Ireland, and cafes in Italy and Spain. [16] While on vacation she took a couple of pictures of herself holding some alcoholic beverages such as wine or beer. Since she was not actively drinking any of the alcohol in the pictures and she did not seem intoxicated in any of the pictures she decided to post these pictures on her Facebook account. She also thought it was safe because her account was set to the highest privacy settings and she had not "friended" any of her students. However, after her trip, Payne was called into the principal’s office. The principal told her that a parent of one of her students called to complain that her daughter had seen these photos on her Facebook account. She was given two options, either resign, or be suspended. Payne chose to resign. The controversy in this case lies in the revelation that the complaint from the parent did not come from a phone call, but an anonymous email sent from an address that no longer exists. Payne is in the process of suing Barrow County on the grounds that she was fired without due process [17].

Ashley Johnson[edit | edit source]

The next case is that of Ashley Johnson, a 22 year old waitress at the popular restaurant, Brixx. While on her shift during lunch time Johnson was waiting on a couple who sat at her table for 3 hours, causing her to stay an extra hour over her shift. When the couple finally left and she went to clear the table she found that they had only left her a $5 tip. Johnson, being upset, went home and posted a status on her Facebook account saying this, “Thanks for eating at Brixx, you cheap piece of **** camper.” A couple of days later Johnson was called into the manager’s office, was shown a print out of her comments, and was fired. She was told she had violated the company policy of never speaking negatively of customers and the policy the banned employees from casting Brixx in a negative light on social media.[18]

LinkedIn[edit | edit source]

Responding to criticism is far from the only way one can take a professional approach with social media. An entire social network, LinkedIn, has risen as a way to build and maintain a professional identity and to connect with and interact with people in a more professional way than one may want to on other networks. Alternatively, a professional may be seeking to take advantage of the size and popularity of social media to connect with customers and reach new markets. Methods of marketing through social media are continually being developed.[19][20][21] And while the goal with such marketing may often be to simply expand a business or increase brand recognition, we can see in cases like Domino’s Pizza that this can be done in professional and respectful ways. However, innapropriate content shared on LinkedIn can have the same impacts as other social medias. The Australian Bureau of Statistics fired an employee in 2021 for sharing crude remarks about COVID - 19 lockdown restrictions. The director of ABS stressed "immediate concern about the content of the LinkedIn post because it encouraged a revolt against the government.” [22] Although the employee removed ABS from her profile, the federal courts deemed her posts more than political opinion and stated that 'the decision to terminate her was for her failure to follow those requirements of her role and her subsequent failure to behave in a manner required by the code of conduct.”

TikTok[edit | edit source]

TikTok is a video-based social media platform in which users may post any range of content that does not break their community guidelines. Content can include comedic skits, newscasting, business promotion, and so much more. Many users take advantage of TikTok to gain popularity

Lexi Larson[edit | edit source]

TikTok user Lexi Larson posted about getting a new job with a $20,000 salary increase in the tech industry.[23] Following this initial video, she posted about how she got that job. However, shortly after her future employer found that video, she was fired. According to the National Labor Relations Board, employers cannot fire their employees for discussing salary, so Larson's actions were within the law. [24] The legality of the reason for her termination is questionable, as she did not break any policies nor law. Her employer claimed that Larson "having this account was a safety concern because [she] could post something private."[23] In a phone call, they also expressed that other employees at their company were not going to be paid as much as Larson, which could cause internal turmoil.[25] Again, however, the National Labor Relations Act protects against this reason for termination.

FedEx[edit | edit source]

In early 2023, TikTok influencer Karla De La Torre posted a video of a FedEx employee making racist remarks. Not knowing Torre was an influencer who would post this interaction, the FedEx employee told her to “go back to her country” because she was speaking Spanish.[26] The video went viral on TikTok, and was picked up by multiple news outlets. This reflects poorly on not only the individual, but also FedEx. FedEx's initial statement proclaims that "this behavior is unacceptable and contrary to the professionalism demonstrated by service providers in safely and reliably delivering millions of packages every day." The employee was shortly terminated, with an additional statement being released that FedEx expects the "highest levels of conduct from [their] service providers."

Twitter[edit | edit source]

Twitter, a real time social media network, allows users to post their thoughts in messages called tweets to their followers or just people with access to their profile. Using twitter you can easily share your thoughts, videos, and even photos with the click of a button to hundreds or even thousands of people. However, as the case with many other social media avenues some people use this site inappropriately.

Dominos[edit | edit source]

In 2009, Domino’s Pizza took notice of the opinions their customers were posting on social networking sites, and realized that things were not looking good.[27] But instead of reacting in a negative way, Domino’s took a more professional stance. The company Domino’s began a marketing campaign in an attempt to curb these negative feelings. They revamped their menu, trying out new recipes for their sauce and crust and generally trying to improve the experience that their customers would have. And more importantly, they made this a part of their image, so that, to some degree, they could replace the idea of Domino’s as the company that wants to serve you cheap pizza with the idea of Domino’s as the company that just wants to serve you.

As a part of this marketing campaign, Domino’s produced this video, showing customer opinions on Twitter describing Domino’s pizza as “lacking,” “cardboard,” “boring,” and “bland.” More importantly, the video shows Domino’s recognizing the problem, admitting it, and seeming to take an earnest interest in resolving it. The video also shows the president of Domino’s saying that “you can’t lead a company like this unless you love food. I love food. I love pizza.” He saw it as a professional duty to provide better pizza, and so that’s what Domino’s did. Instead of the unprofessional behavior demonstrated in the cases above, Domino’s pizza approached social media in a professional manner, and it paid off. In the year after this marketing campaign began, Domino’s saw a 14% quarterly increase in sales and became the number one pizza-delivery service in the country.[28]

Anthony Weiner[edit | edit source]

Anthony Weiner was the Congress Representative for New York. As an elected official, Weiner was often in the lime light and had a lot of followers on twitter. However, even congressmen have unprofessional moments using social media. On May 27, 2011 a picture of a man in boxers targeted at his groin appeared as a post on Weiner’s twitter. Weiner remarked that he did tweet the picture and could possibly be one of his competitors hacked his computer and is playing a prank on him. He continued to say that he could not confirm or deny whether the picture was of him. Then in June, more pictures of Weiner were sent over the Internet to a woman of him shirtless and working out at the Congressional gym. After TMZ leaked this photos, Weiner resigned from office and admitted that he had in fact tweeted the picture on May 27 and it was of him. He also admitted to sending crude pictures and having inappropriate electronic relationships with six different women using social media. In this case, unprofessional use of social media cost Weiner his position that he campaigned so hard to be elected into and many of those followers that believed in him. [29]

Physicians[edit | edit source]

Medical physicians are a group of people that we trust with our health and to give us guidance. However, even physicians sometimes act unprofessional on twitter. The George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences conducted a study monitoring 5156 tweets from 260 physicians. They found that the majority of physicians were acting professional on twitter, however those tweets that were unprofessional could be harmful.

They found:

  • "144 tweets (3%) that they categorized as unprofessional
  • 0.7% represented potential patient privacy violations
  • 0.6% contained profanity
  • 0.3% included sexually explicit material
  • 0.1% included discriminatory statements
  • 12 tweets promoting specific health products the physicians were selling (representing potential conflicts of interest)
  • 10 were statements about medical treatments not supported by existing medical knowledge, potentially leading to patient harm"[30]

Through unprofessionalism on Twitter, sometimes your physician/patient confidentiality may be broken for the whole world to see your business. This show that someone else’s unprofessionalism on social media can also have adverse effects for those who did not even send the tweets.

Yelp[edit | edit source]

Yelp is an online platform for reviewing businesses and falls under Merriam-Webster's definition as a social media website; Yelp comprises not only quantitative reviews, but information by users in the form of text and images. The website allows users to interact with other users through the use of direct messaging, a "friendship" (two users mutually agree to be marked as "friends") and "reaction" (users can individually mark reviews as "useful," "funny," or "cool") system.

Chris Stephens[edit | edit source]

On August 24, 2016 Yelp resorted to banning Chris Stephens after a series of comedic, though potentially damaging reviews[31]. These reviews were all one star reviews for businesses that offer food: McDonald's, Olive Garden, Jamba Juice and M&M's World. It is noted that none of his reviews were for small businesses, only for large corporations. All of his reviews for these for establishments describe the same general story: Stephens brushed his teeth for at least ten minutes, tried the food, complained that the food tasted of toothpaste and gave a one star rating. The number of his reviews of this nature is unknown, but Stephens highlighted four on his Twitter account. It is unclear if Stephens actually visited any of the establishments. Stephens violated one Yelp guideline in particular: the review doesn't focus on the reviewer's own consumer experience, meaning it has no relevance. This reviews do appear to be in jest as Stephens seemed to positively reflect on being banned for these reviews, the reviews seem uncharacteristic based upon his other Twitter posts and his Twitter bio describes himself as "half of a sketch group."

The first of the four reviews was posted April 20, 2016 for a McDonald's in Tujunga, CA. Three of the remaining four reviews were posted on August 4, 2016 at locations in Glendale, CA and Las Vegas, NV. Two of the reviews referenced a particular employee at the restaurant, not by name but through vague descriptors ("[A]frican [A]merican" and "manager"). All of the reviews contain outrage specifically in reference to the toothpaste flavor he tasted in his food. His reviews may have falsely deflated the business' star rating if not caught by the Recommendation Software. As major establishments, it is possible that his review would be one of many so as not to have a large impact on overall star rating. Regardless, it violated Yelp's written terms.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Professional engineers have a defined code of ethics to clarify what does and does not constitute professional behavior in the field.[32] There is a danger inherent in social media, though, in the ease with which the boundary between personal and professional lives can be crossed. Each day, as social media becomes more ubiquitous in every aspect of life, it gets easier and easier to follow in the footsteps of people such as Ashley Johnson or Anthony Weiner and find a conflict between the social side of social media and professionalism. Nevertheless, it is the nature of being a professional that wherever one’s private life is in public view, it is no excuse to act unprofessionally.

References[edit | edit source]

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