Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Week 6: Social Media Policies and Privacy in the Workplace

Courtesy of: LinkedIn

Employers have the right to “limit employees’ use of social media at work, during work time, and/or on company equipment” (Halpern, 2012, para 10). It is hard to stop employees from using social media at work because almost everyone has a smartphone that allows them to check their social networks through mobile applications. While an excessive amount of social media usage outside of job requirements should not be allowed, casual use should be tolerated.

Take a look at this short video about social media statistics in the workplace. The video is actually an ad for companies to purchase social media training for employees, but some of the opening information is quite interesting.

What people do on their private pages should not necessarily be monitored by one’s place of employment. Cyber-bullying is wrong, but termination by an employer may be unreasonable depending on what has been said. While social media sites, such as Facebook “fits clearly in the bull’s-eye of First Amendment protections,…state institutions might want to be particularly careful not to block Facebook on any grounds that can be construed as pertaining to free speech” (Mitrano, 2006, p. 8). Thus, employers must be careful that their policies are not so broad that they restrict actions protected by federal labor law (NLRB Report, 2012, para 3).

On the other side, companies have codes of conduct that may outline social media policies. As Scott mentions, “rather than focus on putting guidelines on blogs and other social media like Facebook and Twitter (the technology), it is better to focus on guiding the way people behave” (2013, p. 92). For example, employers can restrict public rants by employees that do not involve discussion with other colleagues (Halpern, 2012, para 2). In addition, employers can recommend that their employees use their judgment and “caution employees that if their conduct violates the rights of other employees or third parties, it may result in liability to these individuals” (para 10). Employees can also face civil suits, defamation, or libel (Mitrano, 2006, p. 8). There have been cases where employees who are fired for their social media posts are upheld in court. According to the NLRB, “an employee’s comments on social media are generally not protected if they are mere gripes not made in relation to group activity among employees” (The NLRB and social media, 2012, para 7).

While I already knew this, one of the social media privacy tips that resonated with me was that Facebook owns all of the content its users post on the site (Mitrano, 2006, p. 9). This includes photos, comments, and even personal information, which Facebook and other social media sites can then use at their discretion or even sell to marketers and advertisers. Although people will not stop using the sites, it should make them think before they post.

Halpern, S.J. (2012). When is your company’s social media policy an unfair labor practice? Recent NLRB decisions offer long-awaited guidance for employers. Retrieved from http://www.natlawreview.com/article/when-your-company-s-social-media-policy-unfair-labor-practice-recent-nlrb-decisions-
The NLRB and social media (2012). National Labor Relations Board. Retrieved from https://www.nlrb.gov/news-outreach/fact-sheets/nlrb-and-social-media
NLRB report: Employers’ social media policies must be narrow, must not restrict right to engage in protected activities (2012, Feb 1). National Law Review. Retrieved from http://www.natlawreview.com/article/nrlb-report-employers-social-media-policies-must-be-narrow-must-not-restrict-right-t
Mitrano, T. (2006). A wider world: Youth, privacy, and social networking technologies (EDUCAUSE Review). Educause.edu, 41(6): 16-29.
Scott, D.M. (2013). The new rules of marketing & PR. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.


  1. Hi Allison,

    I really enjoyed that video, very interesting statistics. I agree that it would be impossible to stop all social media use due to everyone's extra devices, and it seems that casual use must be tolerated or else people would constantly be getting disciplined or fired. Even though it may not seem necessary for companies to monitor its employee’s private social media sites, it happens all the time. I know a lot of Human Resource workers and there are entire departments dedicated to looking for "red-flags" on employee’s private social media. Is that fair? Probably not, but it comes with the responsibility of having a job and using discretion on social media. In recent years we have seen many public figures get fired from TV networks for negative things they have said about the network, social views, or offensive language. These people are entitled to their views, but it is important to remember that their employers have the right to terminate their employment if these views reflect poorly on the company or bring negative press.
    Scott's idea of guiding employees is certainly a good start. Telling people that they absolutely not do something may make them want to do it even more. There has to be some balance, as social media is such a huge part of life for many people and companies.
    The tip about Facebook owning all content is quite unsettling but I imagine you're right that it would never stop a significant amount of people from using the site.

    Thanks for your response, great insight!

    1. It’s true that employers can monitor their employees’ personal social media accounts. Companies are checking out potential employees’ accounts to make sure that they do not see any suspicious behavior. Thus, it is important for people to learn basic social media etiquette and how to manage their privacy settings. This video outlines an introduction to some dos and don’ts of social media: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ootxiibcOWc. Kids starting at a much younger age need to be aware of these, as they are using these platforms as a part of daily life.

      You mentioned public figures getting terminated based upon their comments. Take a look at this article that gives examples of how people got fired after posting on Twitter: http://www.businessinsider.com/twitter-fired-2011-5?op=1.

      While people may want to do something because they are told not to, companies need to lay the foundational policies to set expectations. People who try to push the boundaries will have to face the consequences. This article is a good start to building an effective social media policy at work: http://www.bna.com/creating-an-effective-workplace-social-media-policy/.

    2. That business insider video was pretty scary. Who knew that agreeing to an apps terms and conditions included allowing it to potentially:
      Change call logs, record audio w/out confirmation, send emails, read texts, modify contacts, show your exact location, and turn off airplane mode, among a myriad of other things. Judging by the peoples' faces they asked, it is very common for people to just click "Agree" without ever reading a single word of the terms and conditions. Maybe these companies make the terms and conditions so long and unappealing for that reason: so people will not take the time to read it. I'm sure if there was a just a quick list of things the app has access to, more people would read it and opt out.

      Thanks for sharing that link!

    3. Do you really think people would opt out? As I mentioned on Caitlin’s blog, companies make it difficult for consumers because if you decide not to agree to the terms and conditions, you do not get access to the app. Most people want to use the app, so they may overlook some of the terms. However, if the conditions were stated in a brief manner, people might start talking more and protesting these terms. The industry would most likely have to change because there would be bad press.

      This video talks more about how cell companies, Google, and Apple track peoples’ moves through their mobile devices: http://www.newsnet5.com/news/local-news/investigations/is-your-smartphone-spying-on-you-how-tech-companies-track-your-every-move. We as consumers most likely gave permission when we accepted the terms and conditions. Are you willing to give up some privacy to have a mobile device that allows you to surf the Web, get directions, and check your emails? Again, I feel as if we have no choice unless we want to give up our smart phones.

    4. I do think that some people would opt out. I'm not saying it would be an overwhelming majority, but it would scare some users away. The companies absolutely make it intentionally difficult so users feel that they do not have any other choice but to hit "Accept." I agree that condensing these terms and conditions and putting them in reader-friendly format and language would probably result in user protests and hopefully force companies to start making positive changes. There is always a choice, it's just a matter of making enough people aware of the problem and needing them to be willing to do something about it. Again, not an easy solution, but maybe worth a try.

    5. Take a look at this NPR story: http://www.npr.org/2014/09/01/345044359/why-do-we-blindly-sign-terms-of-service-agreements. It is interesting because it talks about the fact that no one actually reads the terms and conditions and they probably do not have to. Instead, people should spend their time looking at watch group websites that alert the public about particularly frustrating practices by certain organizations.

  2. Hi Allison,

    That video was very interesting - some of the statistics they mentioned are eye-opening. It is wild to think that social media use costs our economy up to $650 billion annually! I never would of guessed that number to be so high.

    I too mentioned Scott's suggestions of setting guidelines/policies for social media use with employees. In this case, his excerpt stating to "guide" employees through the acceptable uses is helpful. I believe there should be more training when it comes to social media in workplace settings. I found this article interesting, regarding the challenges of social media training: http://fletcher-prince.com/2011/08/16/social-media-in-the-workplace-the-challenge-of-training-and-monitoring-employee-compliance/

    Also, it is scary to think Facebook owns all our content. However, like you mentioned, I do not believe it will deter people from using the site. Its enormous popularity and almost addicted followers seem to have a tremendous amount of loyalty to the site. It is important to know, though, that we need to be careful what we post and take into considering this data will last forever.

    Great post!

    - Jordan

    1. What kind of training would you recommend? Would the training have to be different depending on how much knowledge one had on social media in general? Some of the training could include teaching people how to use the platforms that they are unfamiliar with to ensure that they are used responsibly. I definitely did not have any social media training when I started my job. I am not even sure we have something in our employee handbook. If we do, I do not remember what the policy is.

      It seems like social media training is becoming a trend. If you Google “social media training videos,” there are a ton of results ranging from specific social media training modules based upon industry to free social media courses on the Web. It is interesting how new opportunities can arise along with the technologies.

  3. Allison,

    My favorite point you made within this blog is about how winning the social media at work battle may not be to have a complete ban - but the example in which you mentioned companies instead have codes of conduct that may outline social media policies. This is also what the Labor Board Laws seemed to communicate - that there isn't necessarily justification for a complete block on 1st Amendment rights - but rather, a protection in place for extenuating circumstances, such as defaming corporate character, or harming a fellow employee's emotional health.

    I agree that rather than try to tame an impossible beast - as phones can be accessed anywhere and anytime outside of company control - guidelines would probably be more beneficial. These can be served to employees as a reference point for behavior or comments that the company deems appropriate for social media platforms. By at least having available a policy, employees have a reference point for knowing what they can or cannot be in trouble for. This also communicates to employees that there is an unspoken understanding that social media will be used - but with suggestions for behavior that is appropriate in terms of professional roles.