The Hidden Dangers of Social Media

Posted February 1st, 2011 at 4:45 pm (UTC-4)
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Philip Alexiou in Washington DC

How important is it for companies to have a social media policy?  And if the company you work for does have one, do you understand it?  Social media is a fast moving technology that is catching users and companies by surprise.

Imagine writing something unflattering about your co-workers on Facebook, then finding out that your comments were discovered by your boss.

That’s what happened to a woman from New York state we’ll call Mary, who used to work at a call center.  Mary wrote about her office and the people she worked with…and didn’t have much good to say.

Just how bad were her comments?   How about: “…put some of them in an office with a title and try try try to picture them with no ppl skills that want to lead you…INTO HELLLLLLL.”

Or this: “…I  had a finger shaking in my face, was backhanded on the arm while on a call, threatened with a stapler on the back of my head…that’s for starters…”

Mary’s boss fired her a few days later.  The company then put out a note explaining the firm’s social media policy, which prohibits using the company’s name or being disrespectful online.

But Mary says she didn’t mention the name of the company or any of the employees.  She says being fired was unfair.

Unfair or not, author Debbie Weil says people need to use common sense when posting something online, AND also consider who has access to what you put out there.

“Part of having a social media policy is to educate everyone on how to use the platforms,” says Weil:

“So Facebook as we know has a million different privacy settings and if you don’t know what youre doing or paying attention its possible a friend of a friend of a friend can see something you said or posted is somehow inappropriate for organization you work for.”

At the University of North Carolina, the athletic department came across photos of one of its athletes at a Halloween party that the department said were in questionable taste.  The university then began to take a closer look at social network sites used by their athletes.

The result: the UNC football team was banned from using Twitter, leaving students questioning the fairness of the action and their own free speech rights.

“You can’t say that one team one player can do this and another can do this,” says UNC student Shaniqua Marlow.  “I think all athletic teams should have one guideline.”

Echoes fellow student Marseille Mosher: “I think it should be limited in what they say…maybe controlled….but I don’t think it should be taken away because it’s like a freedom of speech basically.”

Debbie Weil says all companies should have a social media policy that is transparent for all to understand.  Her recommendation for individuals using social media is to be open about your identity:

“Companies are slowly beginning to understand this is not a fringe movement, it is not a fringe phenomenon.  It’s real, it’s pervasive 2358 its here to stay and something they need to interweave in all of their communications and marketing.”

According to the social media news site Mashable, just 20 percent of companies worldwide have a social media policy.  Most of those that do say it’s effective.

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The Internet, mobile phones, tablet computers and other digital devices are transforming our lives in fundamental and often unpredictable ways. “Digital Frontiers” investigates how real world concepts like privacy, identity, security and freedom are evolving in the virtual world.

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February 2011
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