Share Your Politics on Social Media, Lose Your Job?

As the 2020 presidential race begins, here's how to keep your Trump tantrums and Warren whines in check.

Published: Apr 5, 2019

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There's still more than a year before the presidential primaries, and already everyone's trying to keep their Twitter tongues in check. After all, with more than a dozen Democratic candidates having already thrown their hats into the ring, there are few places to hide from the latest news about this candidate or that. The question is, should you? And how?

You aren't alone in wondering. Indeed, 53% of adults in the United States have engaged in at least one political or social issue on social media in the last year, according to a 2018 Pew Research Center report. And that could be hurting them, because a study led by the University of California, Berkeley, found that when people watch or listen to opposing opinions-instead of reading them-they find those arguments more thoughtful and rational. Which brings us to another Pew report, which found 50% of social media users feel political social media conversations are angrier, less respectful, and less civil than those in other areas of life.

Any organization that may want to hire you is reading everything you write.

And the fever pitch of politics online is only going to heat up in coming months. Before you join in on the fray, consider these points to decide whether your red or blue comments could help or hurt your career.

Read your company's social media statement … then read it again.

If you work for a Fortune 500 company, chances are your employee manual addresses the use of social media. A typical social media policy may tell employees to refrain from identifying themselves as representing their employer's views unless they're authorized to, or require them to preface their opinions with a disclaimer. It's also commonplace to see restrictions on language that's threatening, harassing, bullying, or defamatory, or that could contribute to a hostile work environment by disparaging others based on race, gender, disability, religion, and any status protected by law or company policy.

And while it should be obvious, we'll remind you: avoid expressing political views on company time and email and social media accounts. You'd be surprised how many people post on social media about politics during work hours-or, as we saw in the case of a Marriott International employee who was fired for using the Marriott Twitter account to like a tweet by a Tibetan separatist-work accounts. Even if the above edict isn't spelled out in your company policy, make it part of your own rules.

You can't rely on freedom of speech to protect you.

After reading your company policy, you may think: "Hmm, that's restrictive. After all, I'm posting on Facebook from the comfort of my home-doesn't that crimp on my freedom of speech?" Turns out, it doesn't. The First Amendment covers actions by Congress to impede free speech-not the private sector, says David Garland, a partner at the law firm Epstein Becker Green. But there are state and local laws that protect employees' right to engage in political activities outside the office, he says. And those laws have been interpreted to cover discourse on social media.

Remember that social media posts can almost always be found.

In the heat of a passionate Twitter rant, it may be hard to keep perspective on who's watching. But remember that your boss, colleagues, and potential future employers can always dig around online to find your posts, and those people may have completely different views than you. Any organization that may want to hire you is reading everything you write, says Ron Porter, a partner at Korn Ferry in the Human Resources practice. "The reach of social media can go way beyond our followers," says Betty Lochner, the CEO of Cornerstone Coaching and Training in Olympia, Washington. For the politically courageous, that may not be an impediment in the least. But it's something to be aware of.

If you do express political views, make them sound smart.

Now comes the tough part-writing something that's witty instead of just emotional. An impulsive attack against a person isn't going to get you anywhere. But making the case that someone is misguided using supportive facts will rarely violate corporate policy, and may even win over a few converts. After all, there's no reason why a critique can't have a respectful tone. "You want to be viewed in social media as being a rationale, thoughtful person," Porter says. "Not a lunatic."

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