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Are Companies Responsible for Employees’ Social Media Failures?

A rather sad story of social media misbehavior raises the question posed in the headline.

Here’s the summary: Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith lost his younger brother in a tragic motorcycle accident late Saturday. He started against the New England Patriots the following day, and after his team won, a certain hyper-vigilant Pats fan tweeting under the handle @katiebrady12 wrote the now-infamous message “Hey, Smith, how about you call your bro and tell him all about your wi— ohhhh. Wait. #TooSoon?”

We can all agree that this tweet was in the poorest possible taste, and the Internet quickly responded in turn, with many fans and supporters issuing harsh statements against the offending tweeter. We can only assume she received some very unpleasant messages and personal threats, because her account suddenly went private.

This is all very unfortunate, but Johns Hopkins School of Medicine ended up with a big PR problem on its hands. Why?

Well, a little Google research led to the discovery that the tweet came from one of the school’s employees. Vigilant tweeters then listed contact information for her superiors, who had to deal with a series of very negative phone calls and emails. One employee received “174 emails” despite the fact that the individual in question had nothing to do with the incident!

The offending tweeter issued a formal apology this afternoon, calling her message “a horrible lapse in judgment” and apologizing to Smith and everyone else involved. This was the right move, but the whole story is troubling. After the apology, a Johns Hopkins spokesman wrote “The tweet she send on Sunday night was from a personal account. She was acting then as an individual and not in connection with her employment at Johns Hopkins.”

This should all be obvious, right? But Johns Hopkins still suffered due to the independent and private actions of an employee. The question, then, is this: How can a business/institution insulate itself from fallout stemming from an employee’s private account, especially when his/her employment status is public knowledge thanks to social networks and digital footprints? What’s wrong with this scenario?

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