While skimming through the very excellent Unfiltered Orange (http://orangelt.us/about/news-events/unfiltered-orange/) for the latest e-Discovery news, I came across yet another post talking about the dangers of Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking sites (http://www.mediacastermagazine.com/issues/ISArticle.asp?id=99515&issue=05012009).
It pointed out the privacy pitfalls of social networking for individuals and companies, and used a couple of examples of people who had posted stuff they really wished they hadn’t, such as posting a picture of themselves at a party (in full fairy regalia no less) after they had called in sick. That is, let us say, somewhat careless and a lot naive.
There will be no prizes for guessing the ages of the individuals who do this kind of thing, one need only look at the demographics of the Facebook population. Youth is not the sole province of stupidity, stupidity has major branches in all ages, nations, races and creeds. Perhaps what I am talking about here is inexperience or an inability to learn from it. Its been a long time since most people my age have turned up anywhere in full fairy regalia, though I do have a Halloween picture from when I was five, dressed as Glinda the Good Witch, or a reasonable approximation thereof. The thought of my own youthful indiscretions recorded forever on a social networking site sends a shiver down my spine. If I do ever don a Glinda costume again, it will be after I’ve won ‘Britain has talent’, and ala Susan Boyle, I’ve landed the part in Wicked. So, never.
Kids these days, eh? It must be because Digital Natives are so different from ‘us’. NOT. This sort of posting-a-picture-your-friend-took-of-you-unconscious-on-the-sofa story proves that people really don’t change and there are many out there committing the same indiscretions that you and I did, except many of them are doing it for all the Web 2.0 world to see. Its like running with scissors: all parents say not to do it, but younger people think they are immortal and invincible, not to mention having superpowers. None of their friends has ever put an eye out or gotten into hot water over a Facebook posting. Why are you buggin’ me about it, Mom?
All of this demonstrates once again how important it is to have company policy regarding the use of social media. Don’t Twitter about trade secrets, for example, or about the fact that your boss is an ogre and your company run by people who could not organize a drinking competition in a brewery. Behavior that puts your business at risk needs to be a sackable offence. It would seem to be common sense, but I’ll bet some are doing it, as some are posting pictures of themselves doing something else while they are bunking off work.
Your policies should reflect the distinction between public and private. Risks to the business should be mitigated with guidelines, the simpler the better. Most people have a sense of where the line is, although it is not a very bright one. They can be trusted not to cross it, mostly. Behavior that is illegal immoral or just plan daft in the workplace is out of bounds no matter what medium you are communicating in. And if you do get employees harrassing each other in email, or planning to cook the books onTwitter, or any other form of electronic media that leaves a record, that’s a good thing: it makes them easier to track down, fire and prosecute.
The biggest challenge for all of us whether we be digital natives or not, is deciding on the line we wish to put in place between our personal and professional lives. That’s going to take a while. People will make mistakes and they’ll pay for them. That’s just Life.
Meanwhile, how about using this rule: Before you email, blog, Twitter, update your status on Facebook or anything else, imagine yourself on the witness stand with this being read out in open court. And oh, yeah, your Mom is in the courtroom. She’s waving a pair of scissors and saying ‘You never listen and NOW look what’s happened.” That ought to keep everyone in line.
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