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How using Facebook in France can get you fired

media Silhouettes of mobile users are seen next to a screen projection of Facebook logo in this picture illustration taken March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

Fifteen years to the day, Mark Zuckerberg launched the friend-finding website Facebook. It’s now the world's biggest social network with an estimated 2.3 billion monthly users. France counts around 35 million. But using Facebook at work here can prove perilous, as several employees of rival online giant Amazon found out.

Amazon, the world's largest online retailer and one of Facebook's fiercest competitors, has used "disloyal", pro-Yellow Vest posts as a motive for sacking employees.

Several staff were sent packing for showing support for the Yellow Vest movement on their Facebook accounts. Amazon said they had shown a serious lack of loyalty in encouraging or participating in blockades against their own employer.

According to Le Parisien newspaper, Amazon issued letters of dismissal to a member of staff in Montélimar and two at the site in Lille. Their behaviour was described as "totally contrary to the company's values".

'Black out Friday'

The warehouse employee in the southern town of Montélimar was fired for comments he posted on his Facebook page on 22 November 2018, a day before the Black Friday worldwide shopping phenomenon.

"Honestly, guys, you deal with it, don't give an inch, just one watchword: Friday will be a 'Black Out Friday', don't give an inch... I'll be with you when I'm not working.. block everything," he said referring to the 'Yellow Vest' blockades at his warehouse.

The employee in question has opted to take his former bosses to court.

The head of the CGT union at Amazon in Montelimar told RFI it was the first time he’d seen someone sacked over a Facebook post.

“I’ve sometimes heard of people being summoned because they’d been denounced by colleagues, but this has happened on two sites at the same time: one in Lille and this one in Montélimar.

"It suggests human resources have been rummaging around in employees’ Facebook accounts."

Attack on fundamental freedoms

The idea that human resources would spy on staff is unsettling; some workers at the Montélimar depot have shut down their accounts.

But employment lawyer Avi Bittion says the sacked warehouse worker has a good chance of winning his case.

“The employer has to bring categorical proof that the employee was at fault," he explains. "And when that concerns social media posts, it's complicated.

"The other problem is that the employer is attacking fundamental freedoms: freedom to demonstrate and the right to strike. You can’t sack a member of staff on the basis they either called for, or took part in, a strike.”

Amazon est l'un des leaders dans la vente en ligne dans le monde. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Claims Facebook encouraged Yellow Vest movement denied

The Yellow Vest movement began on Facebook in November 2018 and continues to use social media to structure groups at local level.

In an interview with Journal du dimanche, Laurent Solly, one of Facebook's vice-presidents, insisted “Facebook has neither created nor amplified this movement”.

But social media specialist Fabrice Epelboin is more sceptical.

"The change in Facebook’s algorithm a year ago means it no longer prioritises pages or medias, but groups, ways of organising yourselves around a project,” he told France Culture public radio.

“The algorithm change also privileges friends you are geographically close to,” he says, “hence the emergence of the Yellow Vest movement.”

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