You may have heard the story of Bahar Mustafa, yet another cautionary tale for the digital age.
Having initially been lauded by the press, she was turned on when a journalist found several old tweets painting her - at least on the face of it - as an apparent supporter of white male genocide. By posting tweets, including one naming another social media user as "white trash" and calling out to "#killallwhitemen", Mustafa came to the attention of the police and was charged with sending a communication conveying a threatening message and sending a grossly offensive message via a public communication network.
Both charges have subsequently been dropped, but what I find interesting is that her employment as the student union welfare and diversity officer at Goldsmiths, University of London continued unaffected throughout. One reason for this may be that her employer is the student body and not the University itself.
It would seem that the students who elected Mustafa to her position - and who would be equally responsible for her dismissal - attributed less significance to her online comments than the police. Experience has taught us that the employment tribunals and courts will favour a more strict approach to social media misconduct, not least where the reputation of the employer is called into question.
Goldsmiths students failed to reach the 3% of union members required to trigger a poll and vote of no confidence. Perhaps this was apathy on the part of the students, or perhaps they considered the comments in context and Mustafa's ability to perform her role and discounted the need to take any further action.
There are lessons for employees and employers here. Think before you post on social media sites, consider how your words may be (mis)interpreted, follow any policy or guidance and don't be foolish.
For employers, a sensible and practical policy is essential, but always consider the real issue and impact on the organisation before taking action.
Despite this, though, I firmly believe Mustafa should have never been charged with a crime, and her tweet (which she argues she didn’t ever actually send), when contextualised, is perhaps less offensive. As she told Vice: “The #KillAllWhiteMen hashtag is something that a lot of people in the feminist community use to express frustration.” Back in May she said the hashtag was “a way of reclaiming the power from the trauma many of us experience as queers, women and people of colour”. Whatever, I think it can safely be said that no white men ever felt threatened by Mustafa’s hashtag, or were ever really afraid that she was inciting white male genocide.