No “personal capacity” for professionals on Twitter

A social media law expert has warned that social media comments made in a “personal capacity” can have an impact on professional lives, by virtue of the fact that they are associated with employers in an online space.

Speaking on Radio 702, legal expert, Emma Sadleir warned that the caveat, “I tweet in my personal capacity” on people’s Twitter profiles, are wrong to assume that it’s a type of ‘magic wand’ which will absolve them of any kind of responsibility in an instance where they get it wrong, or where they upset their employers.

“If you want to have that caveat, think of it as an editorial comment, rather than a legal disclaimer, because it’s not going to help at all, if you get it wrong. I actually really don’t like any ‘these views are my own, they don’t represent the views of my employer’ – there is an automatic association (with one’s employer),” Sadleir said.

Sadleir’s comments follow a situation where Tshwane city spokesman, Selby Bokaba threatened to withhold information from Sapa after it published his tweets about a police hit list.

Bokaba argued that he was tweeting in his personal capacity, not as the spokesman for the City of Tshwane.

Sadleir noted that, in the instance of Bokaba, he said that his views on Twitter did not reflect his employer, but rather, were personal statements. He said he only tweeted in his employer’s capacity when using their resources.

“I’m afraid that’s absolutely false,” Sadleir said. “As soon as you can be associated with your employer, the potential exists for you to bring them into disrepute…Twitter is not a personal forum, it’s not private, it’s very public, and certainly news agencies are entitled to pick up on any tweets as they are posted into the public domain.”

She noted that the CCMA has been consistent in its rulings on social media. Where you bring your employer into disrepute, you can be fired.

Sadleir highlighted the case of Justine Sacco, a former InterActiveCorp (IAC) employee, who tweeted before leaving on a flight from London to South Africa: “Going to Africa, hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white”.

Sacco was subsequently fired over her comment, but not before IAC’s shares tumbled, despite the company dissociating itself from her views. “It’s really important that companies realise that this is an issue that they need to deal with,” Sadleir said.

Media expert Anton Harber said Sapa was within its rights to quote Bokaba’s tweet.

“I don’t think you have any problem using it. If you say something on Twitter, it’s public and you are perfectly entitled to quote it,” he said.

He added that Sapa was not obliged to call him to verify that he was the source.

“However, it would be fair to him [Bokaba] to say he was tweeting in his unofficial capacity.”

Sapa had made it clear in its story that Bokaba had told the news agency he was tweeting in his personal capacity and was attending the funeral as he and Tshabalala were friends and had previously worked together.

More on social media law

Sapa bites back at Tshwane spokesman over Twitter spat

The biggest SA social media storms of 2013

Twitter a powerful political tool in war of public opinion

Must Read

Partner Content

Show comments

Trending Now

Follow Us

No “personal capacity” for professionals on Twitter