Pause Before Posting: A Lesson in Social Media Backlash

By: Brooklee Hurst

Whether it is Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or any of the other countless social networks available, people use social media every day to document their lives, connect with friends, or keep up with current events. As the presidential election approaches, many are jumping to social media to voice their opinions on political or controversial issues. While these posts are a valid exercise of free speech, they can negatively affect employment opportunities, especially in the legal field.

The vast majority of employers will check a potential employee’s social media presence before making the final hiring decision. Melanie Anderson, Assistant Director of Career Services at LSU Law, attests that the many law firm recruiters carefully research every candidate and will choose to not interview someone based on their social media posts, despite that candidate having otherwise excellent qualifications. According to Professor Jeffrey Brooks, Director of Advocacy and Professional Practice, lawyers are representatives of a firm’s brand and employers are hesitant to hire an applicant who reflects poorly on their reputation.

With the presidential election quickly approaching, many social media users are voicing their opinions in some manner, whether by posting, commenting, or sharing political or controversial posts. Although the majority of job applicants wipe their social media pages of any “questionable” photographs, many remain unaware that political or controversial posts can also make a negative impression on potential employers. In reference to politics in the workplace, the New York Times revealed in a recent article that while federal laws bar employers from firing workers because of race, religion, or gender, there is no protection for political affiliation or activity. While not every political or controversial post guarantees negative consequences, social media presence should be carefully considered by current and future job applicants.

Franz Borghardt, an attorney at the Steven Moore Law Firm, describes political posts and posts regarding controversial issues as “tricky.” According to Borghardt, everyone is entitled to his or her own opinions, but how those opinions affect job opportunities depends on how you voice them. Likewise, James Raines, an attorney at Breazeale, Sachse & Wilson, LLP, admits these posts are permissible if they are done without being insensitive to those with differing opinions. According to Raines, if one cannot respectfully manage those differences online, he would question the applicant’s ability to manage differences in an employment setting, with opposing counsel, in court, or even with his or her own client.

Rants or fights on social media cause employers to question an applicant’s self-control, judgment, and maturity. In a conflict-oriented field such as law, firms may be reluctant to hire an applicant who is unable to properly handle disputes in a professional manner. In addition, these posts are often negative in nature and employers, like Raines, think twice about hiring someone who publicly disparages others on social media or tends to use social media for negative purposes.

Although social media illustrates a valid exercise of free speech, political and controversial posts are best avoided, especially by those wishing to compete in a professional field. Professor Brooks advises aspiring professionals to set their social media pages to private, keep all posts neutral, and to use social media for its original intended purpose, to connect individuals with family and friends.