Free speech is back on the chopping block, and the outcomes of recent incidents may have an effect on the social aspect of your business. What incidents?

• Sgt. Gary Stein has been “other-than-honorably” discharged by the United States Marine Corp for posting derogatory remarks to his personal Facebook account about President Obama and his leadership.

• The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed suit for three Indiana girls who were suspended and later expelled from school for joking on their Facebook pages about which of their classmates they would kill. The school called it bullying, and the ACLU called it teenage banter that was clearly intended as a joke.

We can argue the common sense and constitutionality of these actions all day, but the real problem that businesses are facing is social smack talk. Is your customer allowed to slam your company for providing what was in their opinion one of the worst service calls they have experienced? What does a contractor do when a frustrated employee comments on his personal Facebook page that his boss is a yahoo and that the company would be better off run by blind chimpanzees?

These types of incidents are occurring at greater rates. What was once said around the water cooler and forgotten is now written in indelible fonts on a computer screen. Once on the Internet, the post remains there and has the ability to spread like wildfire. When the comments are good, everyone is happy. When the comments are critical, the waters get muddy.

To contractors who are facing the consequences of positive and negative social media within their businesses, I would suggest you consider the following:

  • Monitor the Internet for mentions of your company.
  • Develop and write down a plan to deal with any social expressions that are less than desirable.
  • In online social arenas especially, consider yourself a limited public figure.

It is important to err on the side of caution when you choose to enter into cyberspace. Like my grandpa always said, “Don’t write down what you don’t want to see on the front page of tomorrow’s paper.” I am betting that Sgt. Stein and those three Indiana girls may now agree.