social media trolls

Should You Fire Social Media Trolls?

Kate Weimer HR, Kate Weimer

What Are Trolls?

Internet trolls are an abundant and unfortunate byproduct of the internet’s unlimited amounts of communication and anonymity. In the early days of the internet, trolls were limited to message boards and the term was saved for users who had anonymous profile images and usernames that went around causing trouble for the sake of it. As the internet has evolved since those early days, particularly made more mainstream with the help of social media, the way we look at and define trolls has changed as well.

Today, trolls are defined as essentially anyone who goes around spouting off negativity on the internet. Whether it’s calling someone names, overzealously defending a belief, or verging into bigotry, trolls exist everywhere on the internet. The anonymity isn’t as anonymous as it used to be—many times, trolls have their full names and faces on their profiles—but many people still feel far more emboldened behind a computer screen than they might in real life.

With social media being such a permeating part of our lives, and trolls now so common on social media, how should employers react when they see one of their employees is trolling?

Why Do Employers Care About Trolls?

To answer this question, let’s dissect and compare a widely-agreed-upon belief.

That belief is, when it comes to hiring a candidate, social media matters. As of 2016, an average of 60% of employers screen candidates based on their social media use. This is something candidates expect when they are seeking a job. A savvy candidate will either make their profiles private (arguably not a great move) or they will completely clean up their profiles to make sure they look like an ideal candidate and not a beer-chugging frat bro.

If a candidate misses out on an opportunity because their profile indicates they are anything less than a professional (outside the realm of reason), no one is too surprised or sympathetic. You know why? Because it’s so common that you should just know.

But getting the job and keeping the job are two separate things. An employer might not be scouring your social media profiles on the reg, looking for reasons to fire you (and if they are, I suggest seeking alternative employers), but that doesn’t mean you have disappeared from social media.

More and more frequently, employees are getting in trouble for content posted to their social accounts. It’s important to note, these are not always profiles that are explicitly professional, and yet employees are still being reprimanded or even fired for the content they’re posting.

Qualifying Trolls’ Actions

The crux of employees getting in trouble for social media posting comes down to a few points:

Internet mob mentality is a real thing. Your employer may not be scouring your pages, but the rest of the internet is always on the lookout, and when it finds something against you, it won’t let it go. It’s happened again and again, where someone makes an inappropriate comment on social media, and the employer might not notice, but the internet certainly does and it will do anything in its power to make sure the employer knows that the internet knows and does not improve.

–Just because your profiles are not blatantly tied to your employer’s profile, doesn’t mean the connection isn’t there. Most people have something in their profiles that indicates where they work, and even if they don’t, just by looking back at past posts it’s not too hard to identify where someone works. And it doesn’t matter how many disclaimers you have that your thoughts are your own—to the public, your actions reflect your employer’s values.

Consumers increasingly support businesses that share their values. Put the above two points together and you get a pretty easy analysis of what this point means. If consumers are on the internet and see a troll trolling, then see where said troll works, they are less likely to spend their dollars there. For an employer, taking care of your people is still a means to an end, that end being making money. Business is business and trolls can affect yours.

It’s Not That Hard of a Question…

Sometimes the answer of whether or not a troll should be fired is an easy one. One of the most recent examples involves comedian Patton Oswalt and a troll with dissenting political beliefs who made a joke about Oswalt’s dead wife. It was later reported that the troll was fired from his realty firm. That’s not too hard of a conundrum—do you want to employ someone who makes jokes about a widower and his dead wife?

For the messier situations, the employer of Oswalt’s troll made an important statement about the incident: “We’re kind of a conservative, God-loving, family-oriented company down here and the respect of our fellow man is deep in our culture.”

Deep in our culture.

Therein lies the answer to the big question. If an employee does not match up with your culture, chances are they’re not going to last long. And if they do something that is so blatantly against the culture and values of their employer, chances are they’re going to be getting the boot. Trolls’ actions might not happen in the office, but it’s still public and it’s still tied to the employer’s image.

So, should an employer fire a social media troll? Short answer: as an employer who knows their company’s culture, it’s your call to make based on your company’s values.

One day (maybe even today?), the idea of watching what you put on social media for the sake of your career will equate with the weight we place on having clean social profiles for job hunting. After all, the difference is just two sides of the same coin.