The Danger of Juxtaposition and Social Media

Henry David Thoreau: “The question is not what you look at, but what you see.”

The law in the United States includes your reputation as a component of your personal property. Just like you’d protect your personal property from damage, so too should you protect your reputation from harm, even harm on social media.

One of the ways that your reputation can be damaged is through juxtaposition, which defines as “the state of being close together or side by side.” For example, in the context of social media, juxtaposition can occur when someone sees offensive content in close proximity to your name, such as a comment to one of your posts on Facebook. If you’re a company and your employees post offensive content AND indicate that you’re their employer, that can harm your corporate reputation simply by being associated with the offender.

This was highlighted for me recently when a friend on Facebook posted some photos about someone burning an American flag and one of her friends responded, “Yes, beat the **** out of him.” Unfortunately, for her employer, she noted in her profile that she’s an assistant vice president for a bank located here in the Northwest. In another example, the Facebook friend of a Facebook friend has posted a long string of very offensive and personally demeaning comments on his Facebook page — and he too took the time to prominently display his employer’s name on his Facebook profile.

Clearly, the employers in these examples did not authorize the juxtaposition of their corporate identity and the offensive content published by their employees. They very likely don’t hold the views that their employees express. Moreover, the vast majority of people will never consciously blame the employer for the offensive views of their employees. But, the juxtaposition of an employer’s identity and stuff that would clearly offend a large proportion of their current or prospective customers has been posted for all the world to see. Like it or not, some people will inadvertently associate that company with that content. Most will not choose to do so, but when some see the company name again, they will remember the offense they took at what they saw.

As an employer, you really can’t control what employees post on their personal social media accounts. However, you can remind employees about the importance of appropriate decorum when using social media, even if it’s their own. You can ask employees not to post your company’s identity on their personal social media profiles. You can have a policy that prevents the use of personal social media using company-owned facilities. And, you can hire people who restrain themselves just a bit before posting to their personal social media accounts, because if they choose to be racially, sexually or politically offensive on their own time, you can bet that it’s probably going to spill over into their behavior as an employee at some point.