Social media does funny things to some people. While most would sensibly avoid calling their bungling boss an idiot to their face, many don't think twice before venting their anger and frustration on Twitter. A new tool called FireMe! offers a tongue-in-cheek way of warning someone if they have gone too far.

Ricardo Kawase and colleagues at the University of Hanover in Germany created FireMe! as a way of reminding everyone how risky it can be complaining about your job publicly on Twitter. In a single week last June, they found almost 22,000 people who had tweeted about their job or boss in a negative way.

The team used an algorithm that looked for telltale phrases indicating someone had tweeted something negative about their boss or job. The user then received an automated alert tweet from FireMe! which rebuked them with the message: "Can you imagine if your boss gets to know that you said: 'I hate my job so much'. You said that on Twitter and the whole world can see it!"

Each alert also contained a link which, if followed, gave them their FireMeter! score -- their chance of being fired as a percentage. It was calculated just for fun but was based on how often they had mentioned their job negatively in the past 100 tweets, and how often they swore. Each user was also given the chance to click one of three options when they followed the link: "Delete that compromising tweet!"; "Check my privacy settings on twitter", or "I don't care!".

Out of a total of 4304 FireMe! alerts sent in the space of three weeks, 249 recipients had deleted the tweet when it was checked 2 hours later. A few also replied, from the relieved "Thanks buddy" to the nonchalant "they already know I hate my job. I'm in the process of leaving. Cheers for the head's up though!"

An analysis found that people who tweeted negatively about their job generally tweeted more than regular users and had fewer followers than those who tweet positive things about their workplace. The work will be presented at the Web Science conference in Paris in April.

The team say that young or inexperienced users would certainly benefit from post-hoc privacy alerts and warnings like FireMe! "Potential dangers of personal, negatively loaded tweets remain abstract for most users, until the damage has been done," they say.


FireMe!: A Running List of People Tweeting How Much They Hate Their Jobs New Scientist reports, explores and interprets the results of human endeavour set in the context of society and culture, providing comprehensive coverage of science and technology news.