March 5, 2009

Facebook-Induced Firing

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Cyberspace fascinates me, particularly because our culture’s view of it is changing. When I was in high school, if I posted a picture of a classmate on my Web site, I’d often be asked to take it down or erase him or her from the picture. Now, of course, it’s common to post pictures online on Facebook, and people concerned about privacy are more likely to “un-tag” themselves from photos instead of asking others to delete them. It seems as if people are not as concerned about the consequences of posting personal information and photos on the Web.

I was reminded of this recently when I read about an English girl who was fired because she posted on Facebook that she was bored at work, even though she didn’t name the company employing her.


Kimberley Swann, a 16-year-old girl from Clacton-On-Sea in Essex, began working as an office administrator for Ivell Marketing & Logistics at the beginning of February. She began posting short comments about her job on her Facebook profile, such as “first day at work. omg!! So dull!!”, “all i do is shred holepunch n scan paper!!! omg!” and “‘im so totally bord!!!”


What Swann didn’t realize is that her employer, Stephen Ivell, found her comments when he presumably discovered and accessed her profile. On Feb. 27, Ivell called Swann into his office and fired her on the spot.

“‘He called me into the office and said ‘I have seen your comments on Facebook and I don’t want my company being in the news,'” Swann said. If that is what he said, it is quite ironic.

Ivell also handed her a letter which said, “Following your comments made on Facebook about your job and the company we feel it is better that, as you are not happy and do not enjoy your work, we end your employment with Ivell Marketing & Logistics with immediate effect.”

The slight nuance in this story is that Swann said never said which company she was working for. So while close friends, fellow employees and family would know which company she was referring to, everyone else in the world would not.

Swann is stunned that something she said outside of work could be used against her, since she wrote the comments at home when she returned from her job. “They were just being nosy, going through everything,” she said in reference to her employers. “I think it is really sad, it makes them look stupid that they are going to be so petty.”

She also said her comments were not a true indicator of how she really felt about her job. “I was an office administrator, so of course it was boring at first and I knew it would get more interesting, ” she said. “I was happy there, although they said I wasn’t. It’s not fair. I think it’s really out of order but there is nothing I can do now.”

Ivell believes otherwise. “Ivell Marketing is a small, close-knit family company,” he said, “and it is very important that all the staff work together in harmony.”

“Had Miss Swann put up a poster on the staff notice board making the same comments and invited other staff to read it there would have been the same result.”

Since the incident, Swann says she’s had over 200 Facebook messages from people around the world, and has had her number of Facebook friends grow from 400 to 800. Perhaps the publicity from this story will help her land a new job.


It is clear that Swann and her supporters see Facebook, as many do, as a safe harbor to post private feelings. Yet others like Ivell view it as a public forum that others, including employers, can access and use information from. This disconnect in understanding what Facebook is, to me, is the most interesting part of the story. Given the extraordinary numbers of people using Facebook, it’s clear that we’ll have to decide these issues soon.