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back to article Yes, you can be sacked for making dodgy Facebook posts

Ignorance about Facebook privacy settings is no excuse for complaining about the consequences of publishing off-colour online comments, a US judge has ruled. Robert J Sumien, an emergency medical technician in Texas, wrote a Facebook wall post about giving "boot to the head" to unruly patients. The comment came to the attention …

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Anonymous Coward

Anything you write down,

can and will be used against you. And if you put it on the internet, in public, then it will stay there forever. Funny how so few people realise this until it is much, much too late.

Nowt wrong with good old-fashioned human interaction with your friends.

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Anonymous Coward

sacked for making dodgy Facebook posts

LOL, no sympathy at all. Fuck'em for being gobshites.

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Big Brother

Re: sacked for making dodgy Facebook posts

You do realise, of course, that precisely the same situation could just as equally apply to posts you make in a ny forum, such as this one?

This ruling amounts to yet another piece of "Shut Up and Obey" legislation. I'd be interested to know what country this ruling was made in, however.

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Re: sacked for making dodgy Facebook posts

post about giving "boot to the head" to unruly patients.

Um I would think that if your employer found you you were talking on public forum about kicking patients you would be fired.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: what country this ruling was made in

"a US judge has ruled"

"an emergency medical technician in Texas"

Any clues there?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: sacked for making dodgy Facebook posts

"LOL, no sympathy at all. Fuck'em for being gobshites."

Anyone else now thinking "wouldn't it be ironically funny if..."

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Re: sacked for making dodgy Facebook posts

Well, judging by the fact it was a Texas circuit court which handed down the ruling, I'd tend to assume it occurred somewhere in the United States.

I like that you call this "Shut Up and Obey". I know Reds don't care to hear it, but employers do actually have the right to protect themselves from potential liability incurred by the actions of their employees. A medical professional talking in public about kicking patients in the head seems to me a clear liability risk, not to mention being the mark of someone severely lacking in discretion -- which, in a field where people's most intimate secrets can frequently become one's day-to-day business, is, quite reasonably I think, considered a necessary skill of the job.

Even the people who lost their jobs over it acknowledge this; their defense, after all, was not "we didn't do anything wrong", but rather "we didn't know we were talking in public". They could, though, reasonably have been expected to know this, according to the decisions of two courts so far. Next to that, I fear your frankly rather lazy Nineteen Eighty-four references don't add up to a whole lot.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: sacked for making dodgy Facebook posts

If you're interested to know which country the ruling was made in, I recommend reading the article.

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Facepalm

Re: sacked for making dodgy Facebook posts

Yes employers do have the right to protect themselves from potential employees' liability. Users of social networking sites need to stop being so naive about what they broadcast, and for that matter, why.

EMT work is not easy and yes there are some very belligerent patients who will get on your last nerve. I have heard horror stories from friends who do and used to do EMT, search and see for yourself.

People vent and say things they don't mean to all the time but why put it in writing where it can be viewed by a wide audience? Unfortunately it seems to be in vogue to put your entire life on the internet and getting sacked for what you post is nothing new, happens all the time.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: sacked for making dodgy Facebook posts

Despite the fact that the court was in the US there is no guarantee that the crime (if one existed) actually took place inside the borders of the US. If you didn't know it, the US has granted itself jurisdiction over the whole world.

If you are a male and take a leak in public in France where it is legal, you are guilty of a crime in may US States and could be branded a sex offender for life.

Anon because I am innocent.

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Re: sacked for making dodgy Facebook posts

Anon because you are lying.

Let's see some proof, shall we, that someone, whether US citizen or otherwise, faced criminal charges in the United States for pissing against a wall in France -- I'll grant that the US legal system sometimes behaves in ways which appear bizarre, and I'll certainly grant that the utopians currently in power don't give a damn for sovereignty either in theory or in practice -- save their own, of course -- but even so, what you're saying would be a hell of a stretch. (Admittedly, this challenge may end up costing me a faceful of egg, but with someone who doesn't seem to know the difference between tort and crime, it doesn't seem too big a risk.)

I'll also grant that we've occasionally had visiting aliens fall foul of our laws regarding indecent exposure, which for example limit where, in public, you're permitted to whip out your cock and befoul the common pavement. I don't know what the state of the art might be in France, but here in the States, we have indoor flush toilets for that purpose, and many of them are freely accessible to the public. My advice for folks visiting from countries, where pissing up against a wall in public is apparently acceptable, would be simply that they familiarize themselves sufficiently with the local laws to avoid committing such crimes. No one would be making this excuse for me if I went to Singapore and got my ass proper beat for vandalizing a car, like that little moron Fay did a decade or so ago, so why do I have to listen to it on behalf of people who can't hold their water until they can find a public toilet? -- a skill I, little exceptional among Americans save in having some knowledge of history, had mastered by the age of ten.

(Besides all of which, if the court is in the United States, and the person before it is a United States citizen, then it doesn't matter in what jurisdiction a crime took place. Why should it? Do you suggest that middle-aged child molesters should flit off to Thailand to rape babies, and then come home olly-olly-oxen-free?)

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Re: sacked for making dodgy Facebook posts

(I'd also note that I've pissed up against plenty of things in my life, and never once got in trouble by it. We don't, for example, have flying FBI squads with piss-sensors and assault rifles. What we do have is an expectation, I think entirely reasonable, that both our citizens, and our visitors, be civilized enough not to urinate in public. Those unable to satisfy this expectation would be well advised to avoid visiting the States.)

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Re: sacked for making dodgy Facebook posts

It's one thing to have cultural standards of behaviour - it is certainly NOT nice to urinate in public. But, there are times, like at 4AM when the bars close, when you have had 6+ pints of beer plus water and are walking home for 30 minutes, that things become unfortunate. Pressing even. Making it illegal, as opposed to simply bad behaviour frowned upon, simply speaks of an overly prescriptive society... (PS - for you Americans that don't travel overseas much - meaning most of you - many European towns have now started putting up plastic open air urinals in town on Friday and Saturday nights for just such extingencies. Because at least the Europeans know that a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do...I just feel sorry for the girls who need to go!)

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Re: sacked for making dodgy Facebook posts

"post about giving "boot to the head" to unruly patients.

Um I would think that if your employer found you you were talking on public forum about kicking patients you would be fired."

Unless, of course, you had heard the incredibly funny radio sketches (and one audience participation chorus song) from the Canadian troupe The Fanatics. If you had, this would begin to take on the tone of furloughing someone for medical cause because he had donned a knotted handkerchief and droned "my brain hurts" or had made scurrilous and invasive comments about lumberjacks in song.

Is no-one else worried that venting in semi-public after a hard day and using obvious hyperbole to let off steam is seen as an actual threat to do physical harm with no evidence that this is in fact a realistic fear?

if not: when is that Simon bloke who writes so much "violence in the workplace" porn on The Register gonna get his, then?

A Boot to the Head for the idiots who did the firing for not understanding the difference between the internet and real life. And one for Jenny and the Wimp.

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Mushroom

Re: sacked for making dodgy Facebook posts

But, there are times, like at 4AM when the bars close, when you have had 6+ pints of beer plus water and are walking home for 30 minutes, that things become unfortunate.

So you stay up til 4AM, you have 6+pints of beer and water, you don't make plans to get to a rest area within a reasonable time frame considering your self-imposed condition, and you think that makes it acceptable to piss all over everyone else's stuff?

I'm sorry, but I for one think the stupid selfish dickishness that leads to calling such activity "unfortunate" rather than "the completely predictable result of a course of action which illustrates a severe deficiency in common sense" is what should be illegal. I think you'll find that attitude is at the core of most if not all "real" crimes.

Those of us who have brains and can use them know how to appreciate alcohol, without wasting it on others' walls.

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Re: sacked for making dodgy Facebook posts

And you've just made a threat of sexual assault/rape on an internet forum.

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Re: sacked for making dodgy Facebook posts

"Despite the fact that the court was in the US there is no guarantee that the crime (if one existed) actually took place inside the borders of the US. If you didn't know it, the US has granted itself jurisdiction over the whole world."

WTF are you talking about no crime was committed and employer fired some. This was all done inside of the US boarders. The article clearly states so.

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Stop

Weeing in public...

When I was a kid hitch-hiking in France in the late 70's I got a lift with a guy and his wife and, I think, a couple of small kids. We stopped for a break in a semi-rural area, he got out, and relieved himself against a wall by the road. Surprising but, on reflection, not a big deal. What exactly is offensive about it? I don't want to see anyone doing it in a public area, but there comes a point where the state has to stop interfering with ordinary people, and give them credit for being smart enough to work out for themselves whether it's socially acceptable to get your zip down in an emergency. If you live in a country which is sufficiently anally retarded or fascistic enough to legislate on this, where do you draw the line? Are you allowed to let your 2-year-old have a wee in a corner somewhere in an emergency? A 5-year-old? A 45-year-old? Who decides? The police? The storm troopers? Anyone remember the story about Freud and Jung walking down a street, possibly in Vienna, when Freud was taken short? He couldn't bring himself to get it out in an alley somewhere, so he urinated down his trouser leg. Jung spent the rest of Freud's life goading him about it.

And, I've got to say, I'm not surprised at the response of the US commentards. When I go, all I can see are ORDERS everywhere. Bloody orders. Don't get out, don't stop, don't cross, don't camp, don't light a fire, someone else owns this, sod off, go away, move on. Whatever happened to the Land Of The Free, the country I wanted to live in 30 years ago? All gone - you guys need to stop occasionally, and wonder what a foreigner in a free country would think. Not that it's much better here in the UK. I'm pretty sure that we've got a pissing-in-public law about to come in. And walking on the cracks in the pavement within 10 miles of the olympics wil lget you shot. And so on.

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MJI
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Re: Weeing in public... DIY Stores

When my children were younger and they wanted to go to toilet in Homebase.

I pointed out the toilets, but they didn't want to use them as they might have been seen.

Pity really as if these places insist on putting toilets everywhere we should at least use them.

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Re: Weeing in public...

1982 is your idea of a savory period in American history? Wow.

"...there comes a point where the state has to stop interfering with ordinary people, and give them credit for being smart enough to work out for themselves whether it's socially acceptable to get your zip down in an emergency."

This from a subject of a country which suffers barbarians to run amok in the streets of its capital and doesn't even bother trying to restore order, but which won't even permit its subjects to own a pump-action shotgun for home defense. Your idea of liberty strikes me as curious indeed; given the choice, I think I'll stick with firearms ownership, NO TRESPASSING signs, and laws against pissing in public.

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Windows

Re: sacked for making dodgy Facebook posts

It's only a bit of piss, Steve, you big fairy. Resorting to pissing in a public place might not be the best behaviour, but it doesn't warrant being put on the register (not this one).

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Coat

Boarders?

Didn't know pirates where involved?

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Re: sacked for making dodgy Facebook posts

Gotta disagree with you on this one Em. People need a place to blow off steam. Unless it is evident from the thread that there was an actual danger to the patients, they shouldn't get the boot for this. IT people do it all the time, hell, we've even got websites dedicated to them.

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Silver badge

Re: sacked for making dodgy Facebook posts

I'd say the question of whether or not there was a crime is particularly relevant to the story, court decision not withstanding: Should venting in a public forum be a firing offense?

Yeah, the previous poster is a hoser and obviously wasn't asking the question from a reasonable mindset, but the question itself is, I think, legitimate.

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Big Brother

Re: sacked for making dodgy Facebook posts

Yeah, ok, reading and comprehension fail on my part in not noticing the US references. Doh.

That aside, however, do we feel the same way about the "Blow up Robin Hood Airport" story? Or how about those that said "Hooray! Riots!" on facebook during the riots and the heavy sentences that followed? Tally that up with how our leaders like to talk about restricting and monitoring social networking and then what do you think?

Personally, my answer to this is simple: We have free speech in this nation - Did he kick anyone in the head? Did he physically conspire to blow up an airport? Did he take actual part in the riots? No? Then NO CRIME has been committed.

We should, and must have the inalieble right to say what the hell we like, when and where we like and not be subject to censor. Likewise, if someone says something f'in stupid on facebook, myspace, a forum, the TV, the papers, the radio or on a soapbox in Hyde Park Corner we have the right to point, mock and laugh too (the right to parody is an important part of this argument).

I will allow for the exception of "incitement" in such cases, so inciting people to kick patients in the head, start a riot or blow up an airport is possibly a criminal act, but merely saying it should not be. If the BNP, PETA Extreme Religious Fanatics or anyone else want to stand there and spout whatever nonsense they like and be unfraid to do so due to official (as opposed to public) censure.

This is a free country, and restriction of speech by any means is a step towards erosion of those freedoms. You have a right to an opinion and an equal right to express it however you wish. Your employer is not your morality-watchdog and must never become such.

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Re: sacked for making dodgy Facebook posts

For the last everfucking time: No one is arguing that a crime has been committed, and all of you who are discussing criminal law are probably having a lot of fun but you're not talking about anything to do with the article. The question is whether the employer is justified in sacking the employees. That was what the tort was about, and the judge ruled that the employer was. Come back when you understand the US legal system well enough to know what you're talking about, OK?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: girls who need to go

Don't feel so sorry for the girls ... passing through Soho Square a few weeks ago proved that with sufficient need and a sufficiently short skirt, members of a liquored up hen party can pee on the street quite easily.

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Re: I know Reds don't care to hear it

Always amuses me when I hear americans talk about Reds, don't know why, just sounds quaint and you just know you are likely to read/hear some classic quirp on what the general american population considers to be the evil known as communism.

Course I am assuming that you weren't referring to some utlra Liberalist 'Football' team who wear red jerseys.

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Re: flit off to Thailand

Eh, do you really think that that is legal over there?

Maybe a better example would have been something less controversial, like smoking dope in the netherlands?

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Re: sacked for making dodgy Facebook posts

I don't say people should not have a place to blow off steam; as a sysadmin myself, I'm well aware of the necessity, I assure you. I do say I see no problem with people being held accountable for things they say in public.

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Re: Your idea of liberty strikes me as curious indeed

Quite right, you tell 'em. Course what about those who can't afford firearms? Maybe if you gave the poorest people guns they might have been able to shoot it out with the gretna police when Katrina hit.

Always got the impression that liberty in American English was one of those words that meant something different, must remember not to ask an american if he want's to nip out for a fag again.

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FAIL

Re: sacked for making dodgy Facebook posts

But hold on a minute. If you are not at work you can say what you want about work.

You are allowed to hate your job or your employer. There is no law against it.

This ruling greys the area between home and work. I know in the USA employers don't like their employees having holidays but trawling through Facebook twitter etc or more likely another employee reported the guy to his boss is just plain wrong.

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Mushroom

Re: sacked for making dodgy Facebook posts

So, I can have punitive action taken against me by another party without recourse to the judicial process? I think there's a thing called a "tribunal" that may disagree.

I may not know much about US Law (I'm a UK citizen and hold this aloft as an example of something we don't want over here thankyouverymuch) but I believe you have a sort of law that goes by the following wording.......

"The First Amendment (Amendment I) to the United States Constitution is part of the Bill of Rights. The amendment prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances."

And the 14th amendment goes on to clarify that...

"There are exceptions to these general protections, including the Miller test for obscenity, child pornography laws, speech that incites imminent lawless action, and regulation of commercial speech such as advertising. Within these limited areas, other limitations on free speech balance rights to free speech and other rights, such as rights for authors and inventors over their works and discoveries (copyright and patent), protection from imminent or potential violence against particular persons (restrictions on fighting words), or the use of untruths to harm others (slander). "

Oddly, I don't find ANY right of an EMPLOYER to censure the speech of an EMPLOYEE, or to take PUNITIVE ACTION based on such speech.

Yep, I think we are indeed discussing a point of law. One wherein an employer has clearly broken it and appears to be allowed to do so with impunity.

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In one breath, you admit you know little or nothing of how the law works in the United States.

In the very next breath, you presume to explain to me which United States law applies in this situation, and how.

How marvelous! They do say a true fool isn't equipped to recognize his own foolishness -- you, sir, not only embody that dictum, you transcend it. A more perfect idiot I might never hope to see.

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Re: sacked for making dodgy Facebook posts

"If you are not at work you can say what you want about work."

No one has said otherwise. You have a perfect right (security clearance, &c., notwithstanding) to say exactly what you please about your job, in whatever context you like. What you don't have is the right to say whatever you like, wherever you like, in perfect freedom of consequence. You may be held responsible for embarrassing your employer, whether you do so on work hours or off.

If that's a problem for you, my advice would be to stay in the UK, where apparently the government has insinuated itself so thoroughly into the employment relationship that there may as well just not be private employers any more. If that's what you like, fine! Here in the US, though our Reds are working on it, we're not there yet. If you don't like that, you're more than welcome not to seek employment in the States.

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FAIL

@Aaron Em

And you produce naught but ad hominem attacks.

Your argument is rendered invalid.

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Facepalm

Re: @Aaron Em

I've produced a great deal but ad hom in this thread, but you're apparently not equipped to understand any of it, so I'm not too surprised you fail to acknowledge it. That you're not so equipped, but for some reason feel yourself capable of participating in the argument anyway, leaves ad hom as the only appropriate response; as you've made plain, anything more rigorous than that, you'll simply fail to comprehend in any case.

I mean, sure, ordinarily I wouldn't indulge in it, but I had to get down to your level somehow.

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Going nuclear on pee?

You really don't seem to get out much, do you? As the great Douglas Adams wrote: "Many respectable physicists said that they weren't going to stand for this, partly because it was a debasement of science, but mostly because they didn't get invited to those sorts of parties." So I can see a lack of experience in enjoying yourself and socialising on your side, so let me explain.

Even if I pee before I leave a pub/club/friend's house, there is still a chance that I may develop a pressing need, particularly if I have imbibed a great deal of water towards the end so that I am not dehydrated the next day (which is bad for your brain cells, as dehydration kills them, as anyone who has studied biology in university should know). And I don't know what city or town you live in, but in many, many places there is a dearth of places to actually urinate in a public restroom at night - and knocking on stranger's doors in the early morning hours usually gets the cops called, not a bathroom break.

Now, when I was YOUNGER, and living in the US, we drove to the bars, so we were home in 10 minutes - not really a problem. But that was before MADD, and the vast reductions of allowable blood alcohol levels, and the ever stiffer penalties. Now, like most people, I walk, or take public transport (try getting a cab in London at closing time!), and it takes far longer. USUALLY, there is no need to pee. But there is that one in X times, that for whatever reason...I and hundreds of thousands of others may need to do something that is socially naughty, but should hardly be a crime. After all, DOGS AND CATS DO IT, on the roads, against your fence, etc. So stop pretending to be living in a sci fi fantasy world of white robes, buildings built on clouds, and germ-free living. Organisms pee. Best done in a room designed for it with sanitary disposal of such, but society should be capable of being comfortable for the odd exception (provided it is done with the most possible discretion, which I assure you I personally do maintain). They call it "when nature calls" for a reason. Public displays of peeing needlessly say at noon in front of an open McDonalds (for example) can better be dealt with through the use of normal public indecency laws...

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FAIL

Don't quote laws you don't know

As a licensed shotgun owner in the UK, I can assure you we DO allow pump action shotguns. Moreover, unlike rifles (for which I am also licensed), the law states that it is ASSUMED you have a right to a shotgun, and that the police can only deny you one for good reason. Now,a great many UK shotgun owners PREFER break barrels because of our shooting range's safety rules - we insist that when changing stations on a trap or skeet course, you must _visibly_ show that the weapon cannot fire when you are moving - it is not such a strict requirement in the US. So a break barrel owner simply opens the barrel and rests it on their arm while they walk - a pump owner must get out their yellow breech flag, open the chamber, insert the flag, walk 10 steps, and then undo it all. Too much hassle - which is why I have an excellent Beretta Prevail O/U rather than one of their fine pumps. After all, I use it at the range once or twice a week, whereas the odds that I will need to fire more than 2 consecutive shots for "home defence" are minuscule...if you think you will, you probably need to practice more.

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Ah, I see: When you say "You" you actually mean "You if you work in the USA". Which a lot of your readers still don't.

In the UK it's common to see T&Cs that require you not to damage the reputation of your employer. But just lately the news seems to be full of employers embarrassing their staff...

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Two accounts yes

That's why it best to have a number of accounts. One visible to all and sundry and kept clean. One visible to close friends were you can slag anyone off. Note that this second one will use a nickname or other not so common name. And then one for family where.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Two accounts yes

On a flat forum (such as El Reg) I'd agree.

But on a networking site, it's very difficult to keep your identity a secret, if you use it as intended, and network. After all, whilst I personally can't claim to know "Mr Hugewilly", the fact they know me, and 3 other people on Facebook rather hints at who they *really* are.

And if you aren't using the networking element of Facebook, then what the fuck are you doing on it ?

We are going to hear more and more about this, as time goes on. Especially when lawyers muscle in, with the intent of linking a persons postings to their day job. My prediction is that somebody who works in finance makes a casual comment on their wall that anybody investing in "X" might want to consider "Y", only for lawyers for "X" to come after that persons *employer* if the "advice" turns out to be incorrect. Now you and I would assume that comments in passing on a social networking site are bupkes. But you might get a court to agree that because the OP worked for "ABC investments Ltd.", their musings could be interpreted as "advice".

We live in the interesting world the Chinese hoped for ....

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Re: Two accounts yes

Actually, if I see an investment professional giving what appears to be financial advice, and not following it with the ubiquitous disclaimer on that subject, then, yeah, I'm going to assume it is intended as financial advice. That's not an unreasonable assumption when every investment professional, who is worth even a sliver of the trust his clients repose in him, knows very well that he can be held to account for his statements, and is therefore obsessively careful to indicate via disclaimer what is and is not intended as financial advice. I'm not sure how you see the involvement of Facebook making any difference in this.

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Anonymous Coward

One account yes

That's why you should only have one account and not be an ass-hat

* Fixed it for you

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Re: One account yes

Better yet, no Facebook account, and save the asshattery comments for your friends at the pub.

(Just make sure your bosses aren't in earshot.)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Two accounts yes

Well you're fucking mad then, Aaron. If someone working in finance (the term investment professional, was never mentioned until you used it, by the way) was to post on their friend/mother/sibling/whatever's wall saying something along the lines of "you might want to invest in x) then they got in trouble for it (as this ruling is a slippery slope towards) and you don't see any problem with that then you're out of your mind or just a complete authority drone.

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Meh

Lets take it a bit farther

Suppose he had posted it on his own wall where he knew exactly who had access to the post. Suppose further that he had a spat with one of his friends and he/she printed the post and give it to the employer. The post is not public, but it has come to the employers attention through the printout. Would it still be legal to fire him?

What if we are talking about an e-mail between two people?

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We aren't

Next attempt at argumentation, please -- and preferably one based in reality this time, rather than in hypotheticals you've carefully constructed to support no point but your own.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Lets take it a bit farther

Ah, the intricacies of the law ....

My view is that the 2 things that should factor are:

1) Intent

Was the *intent* to be a public or private communication ? Sadly, I would have to say that the very act of using Facebook for *anything* would have to support the view that the communication was intended for "public" consumption. That is it was entirely foreseeable that it could be distributed. After all, if you wanted a private communication, why not use email ?

2) Resources

Was the communication made using the companies equipment ? I have known people disciplined for private emails sent on company equipment (and by implication on company time).

With LinkedIn and the like becoming more entrenched, it is harder each day to maintain personal presence on the web which can be kept separate from your professional presence. Not sure where it will end.

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Re: Lets take it a bit farther

In what way does your view of what the law should be bear on what the law is? Are you represented in the Texas legislature? Hell, for that matter, do you know the difference between a tort and a crime?

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