Friday, February 1, 2013

Applebee's server an object lesson in social media sanitation

There's been a flare-up of internet anger after an Applebee's server was fired for posting a picture of a bad tip (plus snotty note) left to her by a church pastor, which went viral. Get the details here.

This is hardly the first time someone has lost their job over social media indiscretions. There's the Burger King worker who put up a picture of himself stepping in lettuce, who was quickly tracked down on 4chan and canned; a recently-hired Google employee who broke his NDA on Reddit and was terminated; and back in the ancient prehistory of 2004, a Delta stewardess was let go for taking pictures of herself in uniform for her blog.

The server in this case is more sympathetic than most because she appears the victim rather than the perpetrator; only after her picture of the check (which happened to contain the pastor's signature) got popular was she fired, stated reason being that she violated the privacy of an Applebee's guest. There's been a mild uproar of support on Twitter under the hashtag #BoycottApplebees and the story has even made it onto Fox News, although I suspect the whole thing will be forgotten in another 48 hours and the waitress will still be out of a job.

I have sympathy for the woman who got fired but really, she should have known better. Anonymity on the internet is an illusion; no one is nameless, there are just varying degrees of difficulty in tracking you down. It's better to assume any and everything put online will follow you forever, and act accordingly.

Companies are (understandably) very touchy about their online image and tend to lack a sense of humor when it comes to complaints from workers. While the NLRB has protected employees' right to complain on Facebook, it's a narrow shield at best.

All that said, I suspect the server could have gotten away with it if she had been clever enough to crop out the pastor's easily-identified signature from the picture. That was what originally prompted the complaint leading to disciplinary action by Applebees.

To pick three lessons from this sordid affair:
  1. Don't complain about your job on the internet.
  2. If you must complain about your job, don't make it obvious to the target of your ire.
  3. Still don't complain about your job on the internet.

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