Does Unfriending Equal Bullying?
I saw this headline this morning: Facebook ‘Unfriending’ Can Constitute Workplace Bullying, Australian Tribunal Finds. It’s from this article. I couldn’t help but wonder if the headline could possibly be accurate. It seemed a bit extreme to me.
I adopted a personal Facebook policy about one year ago. It is relatively simple. If you make too many uninformed comments on a regular enough basis, I unfriend you. I got tired of engaging in pointless discussions over social, political and sports related issues so I stopped taking the bait. And I found that unfriending annoying people greatly reduced my stress level. I have invoked the policy 4 times since I implemented it.
But I never considered myself a bully anytime I hit the “unfriend” button. That may be in part because I don’t make any pronouncement at the time of the unfriending. It’s all pretty low key. I’m not out to hurt anyone’s feelings, it’s really more about reducing stress and not gathering any more evidence that the offending parties are ignorant blowhards.
But to lessen my concern over the headline, I did consult with my partner Julie Pugh. And, as always, Julie explains it well. In her very own words:
The click of a button is one factor that can be cited as supporting evidence of bullying behavior, but the simple act of “unfriending” will not constitute bullying. There is also case law that states a simple inability to get along will not give rise to legal liability (as in, being a jerk does not qualify as a protected class).
So, does my policy make me a bully (although I’ve never invoked it against a co-worker)? Probably not. If it were part of a bigger pattern, perhaps. But it goes to show once again the increasingly prominent role social media occupies in almost any legal analysis. And a lawyer dealing with inappropriate work place behavior (on either side of the case) would be wise to investigate the client’s social media usage for potential red flags.