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Professional suicide by social networking

March 30, 2011

Today I read angry posts by more than a few on Facebook regarding a particular chef who made some very disparaging remarks directed at dining patrons who requested gluten free meals. The chef, who is purportedly classically trained and experienced at more than a few upscale and very notable restaurants, took a very uneducated approach; asserting that patrons who had previously requested gluten free meals were basically fooled by him when he provided them with high-gluten pasta dishes instead of the gluten free meals they had requested. The chef also called the need for gluten-free meals a “fad” (expletives implied here).

Anybody who knows the damage that persons with celiac disease endure when unknowingly given gluten-containing ingredients knows that the suffering and [sometimes permanent] damage they experience is serious business. Some people are gluten intolerant and even gluten sensitive and have a variety of undesirable symptoms upon ingesting foods with gluten. Accordingly, a growing number of people are very careful about such things because undoing (if possible) the harm done is quite painful. This entry is not centered around discussing the specifics of these physical conditions as such, but rather is focused upon the undesirable effects of social media and how it can affect one’s life on a personal and professional basis.

Apparently the chef (whom I will not name because I do not believe he deserves any publicity for his bad behavior) made disparaging and nasty comments on Facebook and screen shots of his postings were taken. Commenters on the threads pointed out to him that not only could such food substitutions cause someone to become quite ill, but they might prompt legal action. The chef’s retorts did not reflect any degree of sympathy for the patrons’ health let alone reflect his knowledge of food properties as a purportedly classically trained chef.

And so the landslide of Tweets, status updates, blog postings and comments began to spread around the internet at an amazing rate. Searching some of the keywords from what I have mentioned here would likely yield not only the chef’s identity but also provide evidence of the social networking onslaught that has his former employers in a frenzy. Apparently the chef no longer works at the restaurant where he was when the Facebook comments occurred, but it is not clear whether or not that establishment found out about his comments and subsequently terminated his employment or if he left his job under other circumstances.

The anger from the celiac and gluten-free community has fueled a firestorm that has included posting negative reviews on Yelp (a social networking site for restaurant [and other types of] reviews) to cyber-stalking him and his whereabouts from his public Facebook wall. I’m quite certain that there’s much more than what my somewhat brief curiosity unveiled.

Consider for a moment all of the personal information that is available via the internet: addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, social networking profiles of varying types, etc., etc. On a personal level, how hard has it been for angry Facebook users to figure out the chef is visiting family in New Jersey? Not very hard apparently. In the instant case, the chef’s Facebook wall was unsecured and triangulating that information with any number of other sources can give the public at large far too much information to act upon, perhaps borne out of their anger for this man’s comments.

Now consider the problem from a professional standpoint: if this particular chef applies at any quality establishment, it will be likely that potential employers won’t want to hire him because they have heard of or have seen his careless postings and don’t want cries of unprofessionalism and negligence from their patrons – or worse. However, for the sake of fantasy, let’s imagine that a restaurant owner has not heard of this particular chef’s antics and chooses to employ him. Understanding that chef image and reputation is critical to every restaurant’s marketability, it wouldn’t be long before word got out that this particular chef is working at Restaurant X. One can only imagine the angry picketing and boycotting (and perhaps even face-to-face stalking) that could occur. Or worse.

The list of potential bad outcomes could be endless and the point is this: in a few moments of poor judgment this chef has probably ruined his professional career and opened himself up to other problems on a personal level. Is this fair? Well, anybody who engages in the use of social networking these days must be mindful of the fact that cyber snooping occurs; legal or not. In some cases if the information is fair game then the person posting the information (or damaging pictures, or whatever else) should have exercised discretion before doing so. In other cases, such as a potential employer snooping on a job candidate, well, that’s not legal and organizations can have problems should such actions influence a hiring decision. However, if the job is one that deals with the public regularly and it is arguable that the reputation of the establishment may be made or broken based upon the public conduct of its employees as representatives, then there may be a problem for the employee who posts negative things about the organization, its management or its customers. Case law in this regard is developing very quickly and while some courts have sided with the privacy of the employees, others have not completely agreed.

The bottom line is that anybody and everybody who utilizes social networking should be very careful about posting personal details or making comments that could be detrimental to them on a professional level. Further, understanding that just because one person might not take issue with what has been posted, another might – and this includes a spectrum of potential employers who might not appreciate pictures of debauchery with potential job candidates as the subjects of the photos. Perhaps then it becomes a question of appropriate employee-employer match in that regard, but hindsight is always said to be 20/20.

My suspicion is that the chef sees that pretty clearly now.

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