Consider these three scenarios…
1. You play for your college football team. At the first practice of the season, the coach tells you that you have to go on a “social media diet” and cannot use social networks until the season ends.
2. Your employer regularly checks your Facebook profile and confronts you about a recent status update related to your aggravation with a co-worker. The boss tells you that you need to work it out or you may lose your job.
3. A letter comes home from your child’s school saying that the school has a right to monitor your child’s social media accounts and can use that information as it relates to school issues.
Three different scenarios, one common theme. When can others tell you when and how to use social media sites? Can what you say be used against you?
Each one is slightly different and has different implications. Consider the first scenario – this recently happened at Towson University, where players were asked not to use social networking sites. While it was a bit excessive, it is a good reminder that when you are posting online, you are not only representing yourself, but you are indirectly representing the school as a team player. What you say can be taken in or out of the appropriate context, and one simple mistake (or moment of bad judgement in posting) can damage a school’s reputation. In this instance, I do think they went overboard. A better option would have been to talk with the team about the importance of using social media responsibly, with a gentle reminder that they are representing the school.
The employer scenario is a bit trickier. While there are many states and agencies working to make it illegal for employers to monitor employee social networking, In the example in this scenario, I would not agree with the boss threatening discipline over coworker issues; however, if I were the employee, that is something I may not want to post on a public forum. I don’t know all of my friend’s friends, and there IS that whole Kevin Bacon six degrees of separation thing…I wouldn’t take a chance.
The thing with employers and social media can get a bit interesting, as many companies may not make it a habit to monitor employee social media usage; they’ve surely got better things to do with their time. Here’s how it can spiral though – many companies are using social media monitoring to gauge their online reputation. This type of service will collect all online conversations related to the company. There are times, and we’ve seen it with the clients we work with, where the program will collect data from employees who are not talking very positively about the company they work for.
So what’s an employer to do if the information comes to them and they are not seeking it out? While I do not think disciplinary measures should be taken, unless of coruse an employee is disclosing private company information, it is valuable information for employers to gather, and they are doing so in a public, legal matter. I will be most curious to see how this type of legislation plays out and what the end result is.
Finally, we have schools who want to monitor social media networking of their student body. A friend’s school had an interesting situation a couple of years ago in which a student created a fake email account in order to send a nasty email to a fellow student. As it happens, there were issues of this particular student already having some peer difficulties in the school. The parents brought the email to school and demanded something to be done. The school was faced with a dilemna; since it didn’t happy on school property, was it something the school could even address? In the end, the school did take the matter into its own hands and resolved the situation. I do wonder if it was “more okay’ to do so because of zero tolerance in bullying. If it were a different issue, such as a student posting “I hate my teacher, Mrs. Smith! If she gives us anymore homework, I’m going to be asked to be homeschooled” would the school have any right to act on that information (if there was, in fact, anything to really act on)?
Social media monitoring is definitely going to throw some wrenches into what people can use as far as public information. However, in the end, I think it’s going to have to be decided on a case by case basis. As you can see from the three scenarios above, there are so many intricacies involved, I don’t imagine there can be a blanket, one size fits all law or rulebook when it comes to monitoring social media.