Social Networking Opens Up New Can of Worms

Like a runaway train, social networking has taken off and like what television did in the 1950s and the VCR in the 1980s – there's no turning back. Facebook claims it has more than 200 million users, MySpace 140 million plus, while Twitter has been in the news lately with both B-grade celebrity Ashton Kutcher and CNN having a race to see who would be the first to get 1 million followers (Kutcher won – just).

Yet, over the past few months another facet has reared its head with regard to social networking sites. Sure, there were always going to use the sites for anti-social behaviour – whether it be stalking somebody, or cyber bullying. But did people expect their employers to get involved in their everyday lives outside work hours?

Take Telstra for example. The Telco giant has now issued a set of guidelines its employees must adhere to when using social networking sites on official Telstra business, which is fair enough. Yet it appears the company is going one step further by adding this rider to its instructions: "Use a permanent disclaimer if you are referring regularly to Telstra or Telstra-related issues", even if you are on your own time.

Then there is the company SR7 who has set up shop and sells its wares by stating they will use the social networking sites to dish the dirt on employees.
Add to that NSW correction officers who were recently threatened with the sack for questioning the state government, Virgin airlines getting rid of 13 staff for criticising the company on Facebook, while three British nurse home carers were sacked at the end of last year for making what some thought were innocuous comments on their Facebook pages. The list goes on.

This is a different issue to the one I recently wrote about with regard to people social networking during office hours. Does a company have the right to set policy outside of work hours? Well, yes and no. No if it is a private matter. But, if you are employed by a company and you're giving it to them in a forum where potentially thousands of people could read your criticisms, surely the company has a right of reply. Maybe sacking is too heavy handed. Then again, maybe folk should take stock before they post potentially damaging items about their employers on these types of websites.

What are your thoughts? Do employers have the right to use comments on social networking sites to sack or discipline employees?