Social media’s growing role in the public discourse can never be disputed.

It’s not only an efficient tool for businesses to promote their products or just a connecting measure for millions of people around the world.

It is also being used to drive social change, with the hashtag Twitter symbol having now become a token of revolution.

To mitigate risks that come with the ever growing popularity of social media platforms, companies have introduced policies, which dictate how their employees should behave while expressing themselves on the internet.

“If an employee is saying anything or making any comments on social media that can be insulting then the employer is held to be liable. So by virtue of that the employer then has to be responsible and take responsibility for that,” says senior part-time commissioner at the Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) Ronel De Wet.

Over the past two years the CCMA has facilitated over 50 disputes, involving people who had used social media to their disadvantage.

De Wet says irresponsible posts won’t only get you fired though– you could also be sued for defamation and end up with a huge fine or even jail time.

“Employers need to be pro-active and educate people on the consequences of that. But employees also need to understand that once you’ve said something – you cannot take it back,” she adds.

The Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) agrees that people need to be mindful of the damage irresponsible posts could have. The organisation’s Executive Director, Samkelo Mokhine, is however urging companies not to stifle debate.

Mokhine is also calling on companies not to come down too hard on offenders but to instead find ways to educate workers on the importance of expressing their views without tweeting themselves out of a job.

Watch discussion on the power of social media: