05/07/2013 08:33 BST | Updated 03/09/2013 06:12 BST

I Want to Ride My Bicycle


So many people warn about the dangers associated with the use of social media (including me!) and rightly so. One wrong move (or Tweet) and you could find yourself only one click away from disaster.

The recent example of Emma Way's tweet which led to her being labelled a "twit and run driver" was like watching a car crash unfolding in slow motion (excuse the pun). On 19 May 2013 the 21 year old tweeted:

"Definitely knocked a cyclist off his bike earlier, I have right of way - he doesn't even pay road tax! #bloodycyclists"

Proving that the power of social media should never be underestimated, Ms Way swiftly found herself not only under the scrutiny of the impressively social media savvy Norfolk police, but in the spotlight with her employer too.

Norfolk police tweeted back:

"@emmaway20 we have had tweets ref an RTC with a bike. We suggest you report it at a police station ASAP if not done already & then dm us"

Her employer, Larking Gowen, (themselves identified by social media users who had seen the tweet), quickly issued a statement:

"Thank you for taking the time to email Larking Gowen regarding the tweets posted by one of our employees on their personal twitter account."

"Please be assured that this is not a view held by the firm and we most certainly do not condone this behavior. We are taking the incidents very seriously, and a full and detailed investigation will be carried out and appropriate action taken. We have already spoken to Norfolk Police."

Social media users also identified the injured cyclist, Toby Hockley.

Can you imagine how mortified you would be? Ms Way found herself at risk of losing her job (as a trainee accountant), in fear of a criminal record (which she would have to declare to her employer for a period of 5 years from the date of conviction) and seriously humiliated to boot. It goes without saying, all accidents should be reported. If convicted of criminal offences she could receive points on her licence or, in all likelihood, be disqualified.

Once again, this demonstrates the power of social media. While Ms Way had a relatively modest 100 followers on twitter this did not stop her comments being re-tweeted several hundred times. She subsequently shut down her twitter account but it was too late.

By that point her employer had also become embroiled. As soon as I read that Ms Way had been suspended I immediately thought (thanks to Hill Dickinson's employment team) of her employer's social media policy. A clear policy, re-enforced by training and properly communicated to its staff is a powerful tool, if not essential provision in today's society. So many people seem to think that if they are using personal social media accounts in their own time, there is no action their employer can take. Employers, reinforced by judgments from the Employment Tribunal, are sending a clear message that this is not the case.

Another frequent misconception is that provided privacy settings are appropriately set and your comments are only made to friends, you are safe and should have a reasonable expectation of privacy as a result of human rights law. A Mr Crisp discovered the error of that belief when he found himself dismissed by his employer, Apple Retail Limited, in 2001 having made comments on Facebook about their products. He subsequently sued Apple alleging his dismissal was unfair. Mr Crisp lost his claim. The tribunal acknowledged that Mr Crisp's Facebook page was private in that access to posts was limited to his Facebook friends. However, in its view the nature of Facebook and, the internet generally, is such that comments by one person can very easily be forwarded on to others and are therefore not private. Mr Crisp had no control over how his comments might be copied or passed on and, in these circumstances he could not reasonably expect his comments to remain private. Presumably Ms Way's 100 twitter followers were her friends but it didn't stop her tweet going viral!

Ms Way has described her "spur of the moment" tweet as "stupid", "immature" and the "biggest mistake of [her] life". I'm sorry to say she is a perfect example of what can go wrong when using social media and the serious consequences which arise. Social media gossips beware.