Anytime there’s a lull in our outrage over the public nature of social media, a new site shows up to again demonstrate its dangers. Like clockwork, the latest to play on users’ fears is FireMe!, a website that tracks when people are saying inappropriate things about their jobs on Twitter, including their hatred for their boss, their desire to murder said bosses or co-workers, and even those making comments about “sexual intercourse,” in relation to their jobs.
Like some previous attempts at scaring the pants off social media users, the FireMe! site offers a tool that allows you to “check yourself” to see what your firing potential is, based on your own inappropriate tweets. (Apparently, I love my job – my FireMeter score is zero.)
And of course, like any good, creepy social media exposure tool should, the FireMeter allows you to enter in anyone’s Twitter username, so you can check on what Rita in Accounting really thinks, for instance.
The website creators explain that the goal of FireMe! is to raise awareness. Project participant Dr. Eelco Herder even told the WSJ (yes, the WS-effin-J thinks this is news) in an interview that “privacy is a serious issue on the social web.”
“We all know the stories about people getting divorced because of a Facebook status message or getting fired,” Herder told the paper, “and we wanted to investigate what kind of people actually post that kind of message.”
The site’s mastermind, Ricardo Kawase, a Brazilian Ph.D student at the LS3 Research Center, worked with Herder, Bernardo Pereira Nunes, Prof. Marco Antonio Casanova, and institute head Prof. Wolfgang Nejdl, to develop FireMe! into the site it is today. He says he was inspired by a seminar he attended last year, where a lawyer spoke to the crowd about the “dangers and consequences of people being reckless online,” and how “the web is influencing the work environment,” as he explains it to me.
Since yesterday, when the first major news article about FireMe! appeared, Kawase says that some 50,000 visitors have checked out the website.
That’s a lot of attention for a little, research project-y effort.
Kawase even admits he’s a little worried that someone will be fired because of his web application. “I truly hope no one gets fired because of FireMe! I hope people get responsible,” he says. “I am particularly concerned that at some point, someone will blame us.”
Well, I wouldn’t worry.
Though the FireMe! site lists a good number of news articles where people have been fired for posts on social media, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, it’s never been because of some online “gotcha” tool like FireMe.
Instead, employees whose errant posts have led to dismissal are usually too inflammatory to fly under the radar, a breach of contract is involved, are cases where the victim is a high-profile individual like a politician or celeb, someone whose job title involves actually managing social media accounts for other brands, and so on.
It’s rare that a person actually posts, “I wish I could get fired,” and then get their wish. When that happens, it’s news. In the real world, these “job hating” posts tend to just lead to office gossip, awkward situations among co-workers, or a stern talking-to from someone in charge.
Apologies for being human tend to follow.
And even when someone’s post is exposed, there’s still that question of how did the boss see it in the first place, if they’re not friends with the poster online? Like in pre-Internet times, there’s usually a tipster involved – a co-worker, perhaps, who’s been sick of that person’s attitude already and was just waiting for a reason to strike.
The various websites’ efforts to expose users’ bad or misguided social media behavior – like FireMe! – are shocking when they launch, but then seem to fizzle and die.
Nobody Got Robbed, Either
For example, we never heard a story where someone’s home was robbed because of Please Rob Me, a site which exposes people’s location-based check-ins. Explains one of the site’s creators Boy van Amstel, that site got so much media attention that the original message they wanted to express was eventually lost.
“Some people actually thought the site itself was evil, and that we had cars driving around neighborhoods to spy on people, I kid you not,” he says. “So we removed the tweets.” The site today continues to offer a way to see if your Twitter account publicly shows check-ins, but that will die when Twitter deprecates its v. 1.0 API later this spring.
Please Rob Me still gets around 10,000 hits per month, and has seen 2.5 million visitors to date. It’s one of the larger awareness raising efforts out there, in the grand scheme of things.
But while it may have gotten tons of attention via media reports, it never seemed to have caused harm itself.
“We haven’t heard of any people who were impacted directly related to the exposure of the website,” says van Amstel.
Similarly, we never heard of people being followed, harassed or harmed because of I Can Stalk U (now defunct), which revealed people’s locations from geo-tagged photos. And nothing seems to become of Openbook, which showed how much public information Facebook exposed, after the social network “adjusted” users’ complex and confusing privacy controls years ago.
But if you have a moment of poor judgement or, god forbid, humanity, on Twitter or Facebook, and it then blows up in your face, it’s more likely there’s a person or persons involved in your outing, too. (Or you’re just really, really stupid.)
Either way, you can’t blame some creepy website on the Internet for the exposure.