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May 5, 2014

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Perils of telling too much on social media

A SHANGHAI woman who was absent from work under false pretences and tried to sue her employer when she was subsequently fired was tripped up by her obsession to tell friends everything on her Weibo social networking site.

The woman, surnamed Chen, traveled to Australia and several Chinese cities without getting all the proper leave approvals. The pictures and travelogue she posted on her website about her trip were used in court against her. She lost her job of 10 years and an annual salary of 134,400 yuan (US$21,477).

 The case should ring alarm bells for people who think nothing of freely sharing the most intimate details of their daily lives online without realizing what a trail the disclosures may leave.

“Social media such as Weibo and WeChat have become a new kind of electronic evidence, after e-mails and mobile messages,” said Judge Jin Minzhen, vice director of the Huangpu District People’s Court.

Local courts, she said, have seen an increase in the use of using electronic evidence gleaned from social media sites in a variety of cases, often related to labor relations and pay disputes.

Last year, two air hostesses with Virgin Atlantic were fired after they posted negative reviews of the carrier’s in-flight meals on their Weibo accounts. The airline said they violated company rules. The duo filed a lawsuit in the Changning District People’s Court but lost their case in the first round.

“Social media have become so ubiquitous that posts on these sites can be accessed readily,” said Simon Lance, regional director of global recruitment firm Hays in China. “Employees can’t claim that they didn’t realize their posts would be seen by others.”

Lance said his firm has seen multiple instances where employees have said something derogatory about their employers on Instagram, Weibo, Renren and WeChat. Employers consider this negative for a company image.

Baring one’s soul

On the flip side, employers often peruse the social network sites of prospective candidates to see what sorts of people they are.

“Many employers will actively search social media during the recruiting process, and if they find behavior not in keeping with their company’s image, even if that occurred long ago, they won’t tend to hire someone,” Lance said.

Indeed, trumpeting one’s daily doings and baring one’s soul online can lead to repercussions that most netizens don’t stop to consider.

During the recent May Day holiday, Monica Liu, 25, had a big argument with her family after her parents discovered that she was “looking for an affair” on WeChat. They then learned that she had lied to them about taking a trip abroad with a girl friend when she had instead traveled to rendezvous with a man.

Liu said she hadn’t anticipated that older members of the family, eager to close the generation gap, would want to do some social networking online.

The unhappy denouement came during the family’s holiday dinner.

“I’d no chance to object when everyone took out their phones to exchange details,” she said. “There wasn’t enough time to remove what I had posted.

“I’m thinking of getting a new account to use only with my parents,” Liu said.

That’s not to say that social media is all bad. Sometimes it can also be helpful.

Take the case of a designer who won compensation after providing records on chats with her boss on WeChat, which proved she had labor relations with the company though she had no contract.

“Social media is a double-edged sword,” said Judge Jin.


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