More employers are addressing their employees' use of social-media sites, such as Facebook, through formal workplace policies. Here are just a few of the employers whose policies have made headlines in the past several weeks:
Ohio state troopers are now prohibited from "posting pictures of themselves or others in uniform and from using the patrol's 'flying wheel' insignia on social-networking sites without approval." As Brian Hall reported, the new rule for uniformed employees of the Ohio State Highway Patrol came to be as a result of a female trooper who posted an "inappropriate" picture of herself and another trooper on her MySpace page. She was not wearing a uniform in the picture but her site did identify her as a member of the Highway Patrol. The poster apparently did not realize that her site was viewable by the public.
Takeaway: Policies should include education for employees to explain how to set effective privacy settings.
The NFL implemented a somewhat unpopular policy limiting players' and coaches use of Twitter at game time. The NFL's new guidelines provide that its members can use social-media applications until 90 minutes before each the start of a game and have to wait until traditional media interviews are finished before they resume posting personal messages. The policy was initiated shortly after media-favorite, Bengal's player Chad Ochocinco announced that he would tweet from the sidelines. When that appeared to be threatened by the pending policy, he said he would have someone else tweet for him at his signal. The NFL wrote a line into the policy prohibiting players from having someone else tweet on their behalf. At first, it was reported that Ochocinco would delete his Twitter account but, not one to be called a quitter, he announced this week that he's found a "loophole" in the NFL's policy and is planning a "surprise" at the team's season opener on Sunday. This summer, the San Diego Chargers reportedly fined cornerback Antonio Cromartie $2,500 for using Twitter to complain about the food served at the team's training camp.
Driven by concerns about potentially lost business, the League also is attempting to restrict how fans can use social-media applications like Facebook and Twitter to talk about professional football. Under the new rules, the NFL says fans are encouraged to circulate messages about teams and players, but cannot post play-by-play accounts of actual games.
Takeaway: Policies that are overly broad are likely to be ignored from the start, making enforcement very difficult. If a policy is obviously ineffective, don't bother.
The Pentagon also has some concerns about the potential impacts of Twitter and similar social media. In August, Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn commissioned a report on the pros and cons of social media. The Pentagon, he said, will review the report and, by the end of September, issue an official policy. The Marines banned access to Facebook from its computers, citing security concerns. Marines can access Facebook and Twitter from their personal computers and at internet cafes, though. The order banning access states: "These internet sites in general are a proven haven for malicious actors and content -- and are particularly high risk due to information exposure, user-generated content and targeting by adversaries."
For more on the love-hate relationship of employers and Facebook, see these earlier posts:
How to Become an Employer of Last Resort: Require Applicants' Facebook Passwords