I guess a bigger question is whether YOU even HAVE a social media policy? Because, without a social media policy you risk damaging your reputation, creating a demoralized work environment, and running afoul of the law, which might result in huge financial losses.
But, what’s a firm to do about their social media policy? The issue is increasingly difficult as communities, employers, legislatures, and the courts try to balance freedom of speech, labor rights to organize, and community safety.
A recent report by Robert McGarvey on Internet Evolution show just how complex the issue of a social media policy can be.
Social media policy: To conduct a social media background check or not
Several states now have laws forbidding employers who require employees or candidates turn over social media login information — California and Maryland, as well as a new bill being fast-tracked in New Jersey. Of course, employers can still find out lots of stuff about employees and candidates by using PUBLICALLY available Tweets and Posts, which circumvents these laws. The question is: should they?
In our social media policy, we suggest employers DO listen to what’s being said about their brand and prominent executives by EVERYONE in social media — including employees. But, we don’t recommend listening to what employees are saying that is unrelated to the employer, its executives, or its brands. And, there are several reasons for this.
First, we believe it creates a non-productive, demoralized environment when employees discover their employer is listening to their conversations. Plus, it’s really awkward to track down EVERYTHING every employee or perspective employee ever said. In some cases you’re talking about libraries full of Tweets, Posts, Updates, etc spanning many years. You’d need a super computer to even make sense of all that material. It’d be like finding a needle in a haystack to finding anything relevant in all that nonsense about what folks had for lunch, where they went on vacation, all the rehashed jokes and quotes they’ve shared, etc.
But, that’s what a new bill proposes. Called Cristina’s law after an employee who was shot by a fellow employee who threatened such action in a Tweet THREE YEARS before carrying out his threat. In the intervening years, his Tweets were the mundane minutiae you’d find on ANYONE’S Twitter and his Twitter account was inactive for over 2 years before he shot several employees at the store where he worked. The new law would REQUIRE employers to do social media background checks on ALL employees prior to hiring them.
Implications of Cristina’s law on social media policy
As well meant as Cristina’s law might be, the broader implications of this action are overwhelmingly negative, possibly illegal, and unlikely to keep such tragedies from occurring in the future. According to an attorney:
Most employers currently are not legally required to do any kind of background check (via social media or otherwise), which makes an internet-specific requirement unusual to say the least. A requirement that employers do an “internet background check” also fails to account for basic aspects of the medium, not the least of which is that much of what is communicated on the internet is false… You have a long list of legal issues facing any employer implementing a background check program.
How should firms react to this proposed legislation
My recommendation is that firms wait before changing their social media policy. That’s certainly what we’re recommending in our own social media policy. Legislators, the media, and the public often fail to understand the complexities of such proposed changes to social media in light of such devastating human tragedies. But, over-reactions, such as Cristina’s bill would do little to reduce tragedies and have unintended consequences.