In the last couple of weeks, a news photo showing a woman riding her bike and giving the finger to President Trump as his motorcade drove by her went viral. The image, captured by Getty Images photographer Brendan Smialowski, showed Juli Briskman riding her bicycle on a road in Sterling, Virginia, her arm thrust high into the air and her middle finger raised, giving the unmistakable message that needs no translation. The photo was an instant hit on social media, with many who used the hashtag #Her2020 urging Briskman to mount a White House bid. Late-night TV hosts joked about it. It was all fun and games — until Briskman was abruptly fired from her job over the pic.
Briskman, who made the image the cover photo on her Facebook page — “He was passing by and my blood just started to boil,” she said in an interview with HuffPost — also took the precaution of informing the H.R. department of her employer, Akima LLC, about her appearance in the viral photo. But last Tuesday, Briskman recalled, she was summoned to a meeting where she was informed that she was in violation of the company’s social media policy.
“They said, ‘We’re separating from you,‘” Briskman told HuffPost. “Basically, you cannot have ‘lewd’ or ‘obscene’ things in your social media. So they were calling flipping him off ‘obscene.’” Briskman, a 50-year-old mother of two teenagers who handled social media at the company, said she’d been at the job with Akima, a government contractor, for a little more than six months. She argued that the photo hadn’t taken place while she was on the job and she did not reveal on her Facebook page that she was an Akima employee. The response, she said, was that the company is a government contractor and bad publicity could hurt business.
An attorney who specializes in social media issues told The Washington Post that Briskman’s honesty may have sealed her fate with the company.“You can’t see her face, she is totally unidentified in that picture,” lawyer Bradley Shear said. “But once she identified herself to her employer, they had to consider that information.”
Briskman was especially bothered by the fact that she lost her job, but a male colleague who put the company in a similar predicament recently was allowed to keep his job after the incident. In that case, the man, who made it known that he was an Akima employee on his Facebook page, was allowed to remove a post, which was clearly partisan and also profane, and remain in his job. “How is that fair?” she wondered.