Corporate control of staff personal life

News that Deakin University lecturer Martin Hirst was stood down without pay over three tweets, caused ripples of concern in the twittersphere and in the academy. Since the story first broke, Hirst has been sacked pending a decision to appeal. His employer’s position is that Hirst has breached the university’s code of conduct. The university had received a complaint from a Deakin University student that Hirst tweeted to the complainant in a threatening way. When the University inspected Hirst’s private account – that did not identify Hirst as a Deakin employee – it found two further offending tweets and suspended him. Hirst maintains that he did not know the complainant was a Deakin student.

This is not the first time an employee has had their job threatened by a social media post. In 2015, SBS reporter Scott McIntyre lost his job following a controversial tweet about the ANZACs. He has since settled his unfair dismissal case against SBS. More recently, La Trobe academic Roz Ward was  stood down for comments on her private Facebook page. Her comments did not relate to her work at La Trobe. She has since been reinstated after a massive national campaign.

The merger of public and private has never been so stark it seems. So, where might the boundary lie?

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Professionalism online (for new lawyers)

I have been meaning for some time to write a post about what’s described as ‘personal branding’. My interest lies in providing a constructive platform for those entering the profession and who seek to dip their toes into social networks as part of their development of a professional identity.

I was prompted again by the recent cases of academics Roz Ward and Martin Hirst each of whom has had their employment threatened due to a personal Facebook post unrelated to work, and a series of publicly available tweets, respectively. These cases, and many others like them, raise a myriad of issues about privacy, employers’ rights, employees’ responsibility, contemporary standards of discourse, and working out when they apply.

Before I could get my thoughts together to finish a post, Martin Hirst posted on his own blog most eloquently about the issues he and others face. So I have scaled back for now. The topic will likely need a series of posts to canvass the different facets of the complex issue of personal freedoms online and their intersection with our professional lives.

This post is a minimalist start on the topic of online professional personae. It addresses what I see as the professional needs of that most conservative of professions, the law. It is designed to offer a starting point for reflection about one’s digital presence in the context of professionalism in the law. It is not a highly critical piece – critique will come in later posts.

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