Facebook has taken over the world. It now has over 500 million users. One of every thirteen people on earth now post to the network. 50% of its users check Facebook as soon as they get up in the morning. Over 700 billion minutes per month are spent on Facebook. It has so suddenly become a dominating factor in our culture that leaders in the workplace are panicky to develop policies to control the beast. It is a trick to apply policy while policy is still evolving.
Many are seeking direction from the National Labor Relations Board to help them fight the Facebook battle. A labor law passed in 1935 known as the Wagner Act allows workers to gather and discuss conditions in their workplace. This law protects them if they want to complain and organize others for the purpose of improving the working environment.
If it is evident that the intent is constructive and there is dialogue regarding the issues at the workplace then the workers are likely covered by law and they can take liberties granted by the freedom of speech provision of the first amendment. If they are not dialoguing and they simply go on a rant about their boss or their workplace they may find themselves jobless. Verbal threats against the boss or coworkers can earn you a pink slip. Employers may have great difficulty determining the variations in the meaning of the word 'jerk' and just how harmful that word is. Most employers are not going to give a critical employee the benefit of the doubt.
The employer must take great care in making a judgment about the activity the employee is participating in. If the employee is discussing wages and working conditions with other employees on-line then this behavior is covered by the Wagner Act. If the employee is expressing his own personal gripe and revealing a chip on his shoulder his employer may be within his rights to ask for his termination. It is hard to draw the line regarding how much and what kind of negativity is protected by law. If an employee used a work-place computer to voice his complaints is he still protected?
Many social network users don't seem to grasp just what the public domain really is. Some think the information they submit goes only to a select group of friends and any other who reads their posts are really not interested. High school students need to be aware that it is a common practice of college registrars to check Facebook activity and personal profiles before sending out acceptance letters. If you are applying for a job it is likely that the organization will dig up any digital dirt you've left lying around on your social networks.
Carelessness can leave you in the unemployment line. A local man who worked at Bruster's Ice Cream was angered by his boss. He texted his frustrations to another employee using some language to describe his boss that is unsuitable for print. His boss called him shortly after and fired him. He had accidently sent the message to his boss rather than his co-worker.
Nucleas Research, an IT research company, conducted a survey that showed that 77% of workers access Facebook from work. Activity on social networks results in an average reduction in productivity of 1.5%. (Computer World, July, 2009) If a company exists on a 2 % margin of profit, blocking Facebook may make or break the company. A study at Ohio State University found that students who use Facebook get lower grades than those who do not.
Several years ago Horace Mann, a private high school for many of New York's elite, was the focus of a social networking scandal. A student had sent an inappropriate picture of herself to her boyfriend who in turn eagerly forwarded the picture to his friends. The female student seemed to be ignorant of just how trustworthy her boyfriend was and how quickly something like that could go viral on the internet. She suffered greatly for her indiscretion.
Employees, students and other Facebook participants must continually remind themselves that posting on Facebook is not like writing in your private diary, its more like posting on a billboard located on an interstate highway.