Balancing the personal and professional on social media

Sacked over Twitter comments: Scott McIntyre.

Sacked over Twitter comments: Scott McIntyre.

Scott McIntyre tweeted what a lot of us were thinking last week – and those of us who were on the streets on Saturday know to be true.

The Anzac Day we once commemorated is gone. Instead, the tableau I saw in Sydney on Saturday, near the corner of King Street and Market Street, could hardly have been unique. Brave and good soldiers in uniform dealing with heckling drunks, shoulders covered with capes of Australian flags.

Let me be clear – there are good, decent, kind Australians who wish never to have anything to do with Anzac commemorations of any kind, who feel uncomfortable at the way in which it's been turned into a brand. When I wrote this last week, I had only one piece of correspondence disagreeing. Others said sadly that Anzac is on the way to being destroyed. Overused, commercialised, true feeling replaced by circus. A massive amount of drinking. Acceptance of gambling as part of the culture of the day.

McIntyre, the former SBS football reporter and presenter, used social media precisely to share his dismay at the way Anzac Day was commemorated on Saturday – and not just that, to share despair at the cult of war. You mightn't agree with all of his generalisations but the sentiment is clear. Perhaps his tweets were pre-prepared. They certainly had that feeling about them. In quick fire – under two minutes –  he tweeted these two and three others:

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("Poorly read" might be harsh – but the rest is more of a fair question in the second Tweet.)

On Sunday, SBS fired him. The press release, signed by Michael Ebeid and Ken Schipp, said this: "Late on Anzac Day, sports presenter Scott McIntyre made three highly inappropriate and disrespectful comments via his Twitter account which have caused his on-air position at SBS to become untenable. The comments have breached the SBS Code of Conduct and social media policy and as a result, SBS has taken decisive action to terminate Mr McIntyre's position at SBS, with immediate effect.

"At SBS, employees on and off air are encouraged to participate in social media, however maintaining the integrity of the network and audience trust is vital. It is unfortunate that on this very important occasion, Mr McIntyre's comments have compromised both."

It's here where those who employ journalists are going to have to do a much better job of having social media policies and communicating them to their staff. SBS's policy is awash with contradictions – at once it wants employees to be authentic but respectful, it wants its staff to engage with the community, but "treat everyone with honesty, respect, fairness, courtesy and sensitivity".

And of course, do all that at the breakneck speed.

I have no idea whether this was McIntyre's first offence at work. If it was, sacking him is an overreaction. There is nothing he tweeted which demeaned or degraded particular individuals. No one is named. And I'd guess that among the SBS audience, there would be many who would agree with the sentiment of some or all of his tweets. Perhaps SBS is a national broadcaster but it doesn't have to be nationalistic. Michael Ebeid would only have to glance at social media to see that not everyone agreed with his decision to sack McIntyre. Is Ebeid expecting an engaged soccer reporter to be unaware of the arguments around nationalism?

Employers want journalists to be social and to be active on social media. Use it to conduct research, promote stories; and promote organisations. This all comes outside of working hours because social media continues to consume and regurgitate all day, every day. Paul Murphy, the chief executive officer of the Media Alliance, the journalists' union, says that the sloppiness of most social media policies is a serious industrial concern for his union.

"Employers are relying on vague, poorly-written policies to initiate disciplinary proceedings," he said. "We have serious concerns that employers are using social media policies to be punitive."

Why any of us should have social media policies separate to regular Codes of Conduct is a puzzle to me – surely employers should have a robust protocol which would work for every single part of our employment – in-house, off-site, social.

And at the same time, employers need to recognise that every tweet, every Facebook post, extends our employment beyond the usual confines of work. There is very little social media which is the product of a committee. It's fast and sometimes furious.

Sure, make it explicit that you don't want sports reporters tweeting about war or peace. That's a loss to you and to your organisation. But then don't be surprised if the social media account is only used during working hours, whatever that might mean. There aren't any boundaries any more – and SBS pretends to understand that when it invites its employees to be authentic.

You mightn't agree with what he said – but it's what he believes. Nothing more authentic than that.

 Twitter @jennaprice or email jenna_p@bigpond.net.au