Frequently, employees who are accused of inappropriate behaviour on social media sites will blame someone else. “I didn’t write that” may sometimes seem like a convenient passing of the buck, but online identity theft – however temporary – is very real and can have serious consequences.
You may not be familiar with such vulgar words as ‘frape’ (Facebook rape) and ‘trape’ (Twitter rape), but it is not uncommon for friends, colleagues or preying opportunists to take temporary charge of someone’s online persona. Largely intended to have inconsequential comedy effect, these all too frequent breaches of confidentiality can have unintended and sometimes harmful outcomes.
A ‘frapist’ can access and change your photos, personal information and update your status, location and friendship list. People can be put in or out of relationships and the more devious will change your privacy settings or even your name and password. Sometimes, however, the prankster can take things too far. Changing a person’s sexual orientation, engaging in abusive or offensive taunts, disclosing personal and private information can have serious consequences that may come to the attention of an employer, customer or client.
Typically opportunistic and ill-considered, fraping usually takes place when someone leaves their smartphone, tablet or computer logged in and unattended. Unlocked portable devices are the usual targets but in the workplace unattended computers or logged-on workstations can be tempting targets too. Shared computers, in public places or at hot-desks, can sometimes be accessed by strangers where it is essential that users properly log out of each application or program. Such abuses are not limited to social media – there is the potential for company confidential or sensitive information to be accessed, emails to be sent at random and relationships destroyed.
Otomewo v The Carphone Warehouse Ltd
In the case of Otomewo v The Carphone Warehouse Ltd, Mr Otomewo – the manager of a Carphone Warehouse store – was the victim of a frape attack by two members of his team. The pair used his iPhone without his permission and updated his status – “Finally came out of the closet. I am gay and proud”. In spite of Mr Otomewo not being gay and his colleagues being fully aware of the fact, he raised a complaint with his employer which he later withdrew. Unrelated to this incident, Mr Otomewo was dismissed. He brought a claim against his former employer citing alongside his allegation of unfair dismissal, direct sex discrimination, direct sexual orientation discrimination and sexual orientation harassment. Although Mr Otomewo lost his claims for direct sex and sexual orientation discrimination he was successful in his claim for sexual orientation harassment.
It was found by the Employment Tribunal that the unwanted and unapproved status update on his Facebook page was an unwarranted intrusion into his private life on a public space and amounted to sexual orientation harassment. Further, the Tribunal found that the comments were made by Mr Otomewo’s colleagues in the course of employment and that The Carphone Warehouse, as their employer, was vicariously liable for such actions. It is not known whether the two employees responsible continued in their employment.
Minimising the risk
Employers can minimise the risk of frape attacks by incorporating some simple rules into their IT or social media policies:
- Encourage employees to lock their computers if they leave their desks;
- Ensure that passwords are required to access all portable company devices (smartphones, laptops, tablets etc);
- Include the inappropriate use of other people’s log-on details as potential grounds for disciplinary action;
- Check that social media policies extend to personal as well as professional accounts;
- Educate employees in what will not be tolerated by the company, particularly in relation to discrimination, harassment and defamation.
For further guidance in implementing a social media policy or to discuss any concerns about issues affecting employment rights and social media, please get in touch