When it comes to allowing access to social media at work, I’m all for it. Sure, some people will waste time using social media for things that aren’t related to their job. But if those people didn’t have access to social media, they would probably waste time in a different way. Maybe I’m optimistic, but I think that the number of users who would spend so much time on social media sites that it would negatively impact their work is similar to the number of people who collect so much stuff that they could appear on the show Hoarders: a very small number of people who get a disproportionate amount of attention.
On the other hand, as much as my eyes start to cross when we get to talking about legal-type things, I can understand the need for a well-planned policy on social media. The way we go about our daily lives now, almost everything can be considered a document. A text message or email to a friend, a tweet or status update – all of these things can be used as records of statements you have made. You might have updated your Twitter in a moment of ire, from the perspective of you-as-individual, but someone could read it in association with their view of you-as-employee and therefore you-as-representative-of-company. This sort of environment underscores the need to exercise discretion. Keep separate accounts for your public and personal life, for instance – networking via Facebook is fine, but you want to make sure that the people you’re trying to impress aren’t going to be aggravated by your near-constant Farmville posts.
Ever since I told a secret to someone in grade three and she told a bunch of other people, I have had a basic understanding that almost no communication can truly be considered private. Social media is just an extension of this. Melissa Alexander, a woman who deserves to go to jail for a very long time in my humble opinion, has been getting a lot of media attention recently. Yesterday morning, I read an editorial in The Globe and Mail in which the author criticised not only her actions, which are starting to take on the flavour of “old news” for daily news readers, but also her Facebook status updates. She describes them as “quasi-literate” and “egregious”, using Melissa’s statements intended for friends and family as ammunition against her. Social media is profoundly public, and that’s why it is important for libraries to provide policies for their staff.
The policies laid out by Whitman Public Library and UT Southwestern Library are reasonable and fair. UT in particular does a good job of highlighting the importance of keeping things classy – “taking into account your obligations regarding proper conduct as a citizen and employee of the university”. The recommendation to place a disclaimer on personal blogs may seem a bit much to some, but the truth of the matter is that it is a very simple thing to do that has the potential to save both the employees and the university some serious headaches.
Right now, I think we’re still in the testing phase of social media policy development. There are some policies out there that look really good and reasonable, and there are undoubtedly some policies that are not so good. But until we start seeing more of these policies being tested by real situations, we are mostly still theorizing. We have a good head start by building on related policies, and by following guidelines like the ones Ellyssa Kriski set out in the article “Should Your Library Have a Social Media Policy?”
Looking for more information about this, it seems to me that a lot of emphasis is placed on tone (most of the “do’s” at http://librariansmatter.com/blog/2010/09/10/a-social-media-policy-for-a-one-branch-public-library/ are focused on the way you express yourself through social media) and twofold privacy: the no-longer-private nature of personal expression (posted today, http://www.techjournalsouth.com/2011/02/you-cant-say-that-is-your-social-media-policy-too-broad/ provides an example of a vague but restrictive policy) and the concern about posting sensitive information (from June last year, http://tametheweb.com/2010/06/10/anytown-public-librarys-social-media-policy/ features “Don’t tell secrets” as the third bold heading). I am inclined to agree with these major points. As librarians, we care about those concerns. We want to present ourselves professionally and avoid making any unfortunate gaffes at the expense of our place of employment. And we are perpetually concerned about the privacy of our patrons, a concern which has expanded along with the rise of public internet and social media. There is an awful lot to consider when creating a (hopefully effective) policy on social media use, but these items are a good place to start.