Social Media Dust Up Highlights Interconnectedness of the Online Life

There is plenty of debate as to whether the actions of an employee online, in particular through social media, is the responsibility of their employer. To extend that concept, it is important to consider what impact an employee’s actions and statements on social media can do to their employer’s brand. A recent episode between an employee of PR firm Hill + Knowlton and a fellow journalist highlights these thoughts in ways that will make many folks shudder.

ZDNet reports

Mufadal Jiwaji works, or he did until today, as a graduate trainee at Public Relations firm Hill+Knowlton Strategies. He has been working there since January 2012 so hopefully he might have some idea by now of who H+K Strategies works with as partners and clients.

He tweeted about Grace Dent, TV Critic at the Guardian and restaurant reviewer for the London Evening Standard who appeared on the TV program Have I Got News For You yesterday. Here is the exchange of Tweets:

Mufadal Jiwaji@Mufadal
@gracedent reminds me of a girlfriend I once had. By girlfriend I mean that time I accidentally made love to an ugly abhorrent racehorse #hignfy

… Grace Dent@gracedent
@Mufadal Hi there Mufadel. How much do you like your job at Hill and Knowlton?

Mufadal Jiwaji@Mufadal
Unreservedly withdraw my vulgar and puerile comment regarding @gracedent, especially in light of the bbc doc on internet trolls last week.

Grace Dent@gracedent
@Mufadal I’m wondering, as a public relations person for a firm I work with, what your thinking was in sending me this message?

Mufadal Jiwaji@Mufadal
@gracedent it was naive and ill-warranted. I won’t delete it, as I ought to bare the full brunt of my idiocy.

Grace Dent@gracedent
@Mufadal You’ll bear the brunt of your idiocy at 10am tomorrow morning when you’re unemployed. Good luck.

Rather than go off on the tweet that set this kind of thing in motion and quickly dragged the Hill + Knowlton brand into the fray let’s take a look at the response.

Obviously, this guy is not the sharpest knife in the Hill + Knowlton drawer. Maybe the benefit to the company in all of this that they will tighten up their hiring practices or at least teach their employees some of the finer points of social media etiquette when you directly or indirectly represent the company brand.

While he acted on his own like his profile on his Twitter account states, that disclaimer was not enough to separate him from his employer. I don’t know the “how” of Ms. Dent learning about Mr. Jiwaji’s place of work but I can guess that a quick run over to LinkedIn might have helped or just a visit to his profile as advertised.

There in all of it’s glory is the proud work status of Mr. Juwaji. The folks at Hill + Knowlton must be thrilled.

I give credit to Mr. Jiwagi for being contrite (if not over the top with the use of $50 words and a desire to look like a walking dictionary) but is that enough for both him, his employer and his target? It’s situations like this that make companies scared about the use of social media by their employees. Mr. Juwaji was not being terribly covert in his Twitter use. If he really wanted to distance himself from his possible connections it might have been a good idea to keep his name (which is pretty unique) and his picture off of Twitter. Instead, he acted as if his statement of his tweets being his own was enough to distance himself from any potential liability if he were to tweet something that was out of line. That’s an ill-conceived premise. These things are never truly just our own in the social space.

I am curious about our readers’ reaction to this entire episode. There are many elements here. First, you have the apparent cold-hearted approach to making fun of someone in a public space, followed by the confrontation initiated by the target of the insult, followed by an attempt to put out the fire by the perpetrator followed by the potential backlash on an employer despite the attempt to put distance between the persona and their place of employment. Pretty rich stuff for a conversation.

Some questions to consider and we would love to get your feedback in the comments.

-Was Mr. Jiwaji’s attempt at an apology and owning up to his mistake enough to warrant forgiveness from Ms. Dent and the public who has now been exposed to his folly?

-Should Hill + Knowlton take action against him?

-Have we truly considered the impact of our willingness to share everything about ourselves especially if we can’t control our seemingly natural instincts to do something stupid?

-Is it worth the outcome when you try to say something “funny” at the expense of someone else to impress whomever it is you need to impress to feel important?

-What is the collateral damage that can arise from this kind of thing?

There are many more angles to consider but let’s turn it over to you, the experts, and see what your take is.