Selfie culture is alive and well. Selfies have become ubiquitous, no longer only popular among teenage girls. Politicians, celebrities and people from all walks of life are participating. President Obama was famously caught taking a selfie at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service with the Danish Prime Minister. A few months later, Ellen, with the help of Bradley Cooper, took the renowned Oscar selfie with A-list stars including Brad Pitt, Meryl Streep, and Julia Roberts.
Selfies have even infiltrated the workplace, evidence of which has spilled onto the Internet. There are Facebook pages, Twitter feeds and several websites devoted to workplace selfies. The popular site TheChive.com routinely features the album “Chivettes bored at work.” As the title suggests, the album features selfies of women in the workplace, posing in front of backdrops such as supply rooms, restrooms, and (in the case of the especially bold) their desks.
So what’s the big deal? It’s just a selfie. Some baby boomers regard selfies as childish or narcissistic, but good luck convincing a millennial. They’ll tell you that selfies are fun. They lighten up the day. Even the name sounds festive! According to one report, 18 to 24 year olds collectively take about one million selfies every day.
But workplace photos raise three thorny issues – privacy, safety, and confidentiality. In one publicized and problematic example, a Swiss Parliament employee tweeted nude workplace selfies to more than 11,000 followers on Twitter. Many of the photos were taken in Switzerland’s 162-year old Federal Palace. The Parliament employee told one newspaper that the pictures were part of her personal life and did not violate guidelines, but you can bet the Swiss Government didn't feel the same way.
In order to evade these problems, businesses should establish rules relating to the taking and posting of workplace selfies. While banning selfies altogether is an option, a more realistic rule would be to establish location and background policies. Selfies rarely remain private, and many workplace selfie photographers ignore the background of the photo. Many are taken in bathrooms with co-workers in the background. It shouldn’t need to be said, but apparently it does: no bathroom selfies at work.
Another good rule of thumb is “if you can get hurt taking the picture, don’t take it.” That means no forklift selfies, and certainly no selfies hanging outside of the cockpit window of a jet. In these cases, companies could end up responsible for damages caused by these poorly considered poses.
Finally, there should be a rule that no workplace selfies including computer screens, white boards or sticky notes in the background may be posted. This helps avoid the issue of unintentionally leaking private company information.
As long as these guidelines are followed, there doesn't seem to be any harm in posting the occasional workplace selfie…unless it includes a duck face.
Amanda Salz made a substantial contribution to this post.
Jon Pfeiffer is an experienced entertainment and copyright trial attorney practicing in Santa Monica. Jon is also an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California where he teaches Media Law. COM 570 covers First Amendment issues as well as copyright, defamation and privacy.