Archive for the ‘International Media and Internet Legal Trends’ Category

Is Your Net Working?

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

Posted By: Dr. Yuval Karniel

Social Media Policy (SMP) is becoming an essential tool for companies. While social media can drive business and support professional development, a policy will better protect the company from a legal standpoint.

The growth of social networks such as facebook, twitter, linkedin and others has created a new reality for both employers and their employees.

The line between the private, personal, and the public, between home and work, between one’s personal life and professional life are being blurred as never before. Many employees find themselves busy at work, answering emails, engaging in chats, forums and SMSes even when they are at home, during their free time or on weekends, and at the same time find themselves busy with personal and private matters on their own pages on the social networks even when they are on their computer at work.

Many employees surf the social networks and are even assisted by them in work related subjects. Friends at work are likely to be friends on these networks, and some of the work communication takes place, often without management’s knowledge, on the convenient and friendly social networks.

It is clear that this reality requires some type of evaluation by employers. On the one hand, this is a chance to strengthen the employees, and an opportunity for positive exposure for the organization and the brand that represents it. Many organizations try to market themselves on the social networks, but lose the opportunity to make use of the most important database that they have, which is the employees who are anyhow operating on these networks. This presents a tremendous opportunity to have the employees, or some of them, put to work on behalf of the company and the employer, in one of the most important components of its marketing and branding.

On the other hand, the presence of employees on these social networks poses a not so insignificant threat to their employers. The employee’s time spent on these networks means less time at work, and comes at the expense of work. Being on these networks can lead to disclosure of sensitive information by the employee about the employer, clients and their colleagues. In many cases the information is released without any awareness on the part of the employee who innocently shares information about his daily activity.  Recently, Microsoft Seattle was forced to dismiss one of its most senior employees who disclosed sensitive and confidential information about future developments of the company. The employee unintentionally shared information on Linked-in in which he is a member. A blogger who was methodically following activity by Microsoft employees immediately spotted the sensitive information, published it prominently on his website, and from there it was a small jump to the headlines of the financial papers.

Activity on social networks can expose employee and employer to lawsuits by parties who many be injured by such action, on grounds such as defamation, violation of privacy issues or copyright infringement.

It is important to state that this type of activity by employees, which expose their employers to lawsuits, can be done as well during the employee’s free time. Many workers identify themselves on social networks as a person who works at a specific place. Their professional identity is interwoven with their personal one and forms part of their profile on the internet. These employees may dispense advice, professional opinions, or may express their opinions which later may be attributed to their employer or corporation.

Employers need to recognize this situation and formulate clear policies to deal with it. The policies need to be made in conjunction with the employees and need to be transparent and public. Social Media Policy (SMP) is becoming an essential tool in management of personnel in the internet era. This policy itself also involves complex legal issues such as rights of employees, protection of privacy, protecting information, copyrights and defamation. The policy must therefore be formulated together with the marketing people, personnel and legal advisors.