Sunday, February 6, 2011

Change Facebook Status to Unemployed?

On today's edition of "CBS Sunday Morning," they had the story of Ashley Payne, a former teacher in Barrow County, Ga., who is suing the school system for firing her without due process. She was called in to the principal's office one day, asked to confirm that she had a Facebook page, and was then threatened with suspension and ultimately forced to resign. Turns out someone had complained in an anonymous e-mail that Ms. Payne had inappropriate photos and profanity on her Facebook page, and was thus corrupting our nation's youth. Was Ashley going all-in with online poker? No. Was she scantily clad and making kissy faces at the camera? No. She had simply posted photos from her European vacation in which she could be seen holding wine glasses and at one point a pint of Guinness.

This case hits home for me. I never thought a boss would troll my personal Twitter feed gathering ammunition against me, but that was me being naive and trusting people that I shouldn't. Yes, our accounts can be locked. But we all know by now that the privacy controls on Facebook change every few hours and if you don't keep up with it, your information is open to the Internet. Ms. Payne asserts that her photos were private and locked, and she was not friends with students or parents of students. Since Ms. Payne was never formally presented with the evidence against her, she could never address the person who filed the complaint. And anyone could have sent that accusatory e-mail. Perhaps an old boyfriend with a grudge or a jealous colleague. If someone is that offended by online content, they should stop being a self-righteous coward and put their name on their proclamation. Especially if they're ready to take away someone's livelihood. But in our litigation-happy society, it's much easier to sue someone for making you look at something that offends you instead of owning up to your own responsibilities for the media you choose to consume. People need to get a life or get a thicker skin because technology is connecting us all, whether we like it or not.

Our Generation X is caught smack-dab in the middle of the warring overshare/how-dare-you-share philosophies of social networking. My mother routinely opines that the world would be a better place had Facebook, Twitter and their ilk never been invented. Meanwhile, a fellow student at my college is more than happy to share the details and the text messages of her strained relationship with her boyfriend, with everyone sitting in the hallway waiting for the classroom to be unlocked. Our triumphs and our tribulations laid bare for all the world to see, or just our friends if our privacy controls are set correctly.

The point is that a woman who loved her job and loved being in the classroom is no longer allowed to do that, because she dared to share her life with her Facebook friends. We're all human, we all make mistakes, and maybe some of us shouldn't spend so much of our limited time on this planet pointing out the mistakes of others. Maybe we should have a Guinness and chillax. Just make sure there aren't any cameras around.