Sunday, December 31, 2017

Should 'friends' caution 'friends' about social media posts?

A couple of years ago, Arnie was friended on Facebook by Libby, a colleague at work. They knew one another at work and shared a boss, but had never worked on the same project, and never socialized outside of work. Still, Arnie had accepted Libby's friend invitation and regularly perused her posts about her family when they showed up on his Facebook feed.

Some of Arnie's Facebook friends were acquaintances like Libby. Others were actual friends or family members. Arnie was cautious not to overshare on social media, partly because he wasn't much of an oversharer, but also because he didn't want anything to come back to haunt him in the future.

On his setup page, Arnie had chosen to only allow other friends to see whatever it was he posted rather than to make his page and postings open to the entire Facebook world and the public. He noticed that Libby had also chosen only to allow her friends to see the links she posted.

Recently, as Arnie was scrolling through his Facebook feed on his train-ride home, he took note of a posting by Libby in which she excoriated their mutual boss, suggested the boss was tyrannical, hyper-critica, and unfair. Libby never named the boss, but since she and Arnie shared the same boss, he knew who she was referring in her post.

While he figured it was unlikely, Arnie clicked on Libby's friends list to see if their mutual boss was among her Facebook friends. The boss wasn't. But Arnie did notice that there were a few other colleagues among her many Facebook friends.

Since Libby had set her postings so only her friends could read them, it was unlikely that their boss would see her post, unless someone copied it and forwarded it along. Arnie was not inclined to do this, but since Libby listed her place of work on her page and some of her Facebook friends also worked with her, he knew it would be relatively simple for many people to know whom it was she was referring to in her post.

"I'm not inclined to report her post to the boss or to work," Arnie writes, particularly since Libby didn't suggest the boss had done anything illegal or inappropriate (unless, of course, you consider being an overbearing boss inappropriate). But he wonders if he should send a note or say something to Libby to remind her that her post might find its way back to the boss, even if she didn't want it to.

Arnie is not obligated to remind Libby that she might be opening herself into a whirlwind of trouble with her post. The right thing would be for Libby to make responsible choices about what she posts and to recognize that her words could go far beyond her intended audience. If Arnie wants to remind Libby of this, then it would be kind for him to do so. But the ultimate responsibility lies with Libby to make smart choices about her social media postings and to be willing to suffer whatever consequences ensue. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 


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