Friday, 23 December 2011

From Crackberries to Facebook Anonymous

Addiction to technology or devices is reality even if much of it is in the virtual world. That sounds either trite or daft or both but I think you know what I mean. 

There was a time when you could see the bowed heads of grown men staring into their laps apparently fiddling with their genitals - what a relief when you found out that the reason they haven't being paying attention was because they were playing on their Blackberries. Imagine our surprise to find some weren't - but that's another story.

In an office of someone I know, the secretary in the small team used Facebook so much during the day to communicate with few friends that her manager, sitting next to her and watching her habits, sent her a Facebook message to make some tea. The person in question without saying anything simply got up, made some tea for everyone then sat down and resumed her Facebook 'work'. The manager sent another message to thank her and she even responded to that. It was the tail end of what had been an unhappy employment experience for both parties.

I worked with a company where they had 90 people on a main sales floor and everyone of them used Facebook to communicate to people not more then a few feet from them. It was probably the most unproductive sales team I have ever come across.

This isn't necessarily an age thing as older employees are as likely to be heavy Facebook users as younger ones but I am sure the statistics will prove a point about the new generation of workers. Many companies are starting to formulate policies on use of such services like Facebook, Twitter and even LinkedIn during business hours. We have already had a landmark legal case where an employee who used LinkedIn for work was found to have violated client confidentiality and non compete clauses in their contract of employment by simply using the same LinkedIn account at a new firm.

But addiction is more than that. Genuinely, many of the new social media applications are fast becoming like the chat sites at the turn of the millennium where many employees got sucked into nattering inanely online during work hours. Instant Messaging is still an issue. For many companies, the recording of IM messages remains a taboo subject but should there be legal cases surrounding such communications such as in employee tribunals or libel actions, these forms of communications are just as likely to be called as evidence as emails.

We have seen the use of social media grow to make legal issues complex such as the 'outing' of identities in super injunction cases and the jurisdiction of law is not at all clear. But addiction comes in many forms and it could be argued that simply believing that what you say in 'private' on Facebook, Twitter or any other form of interaction not controlled by your company directly, is your own business.

It is not at all clear whether that is the case or will continue to be so. There was a recent case of a Dutch website which hosts a community of kids and teachers and some of the anonymous accusations against students and their teachers have been far beyond good taste and into the realms of libel and slander. The site in question basically says that you should comply to the law of the land where you are based when using the service. Which sort of makes a mockery of Terms of Service. It also means that legal issues are reflected at the source of the issue.

Addiction to social media has relevance beyond non-productivity in work time which is a huge issue in itself but it has potential deep legal ramifications. As users naively continue to chirp away merrily on any number of internet hosted sites they are potentially storing up some problems.

What they say while sat at work, during work hours may never be as private and free to say as they think. 

Here's gut feel prediction for 2012, I think one or other of the major social media sites may get involved in at least one corporate case where an employee has compromised the professionalism of their company by saying things they shouldn't have - either about fellow employees or managers or rival firms. I predict we may get a few landmark cases on this in the UK soon.

How do you prevent it? Well I think you can have company policies and that's fine for those people who are fully attached to the corporate network. But for those attached as guests or accessing via mobile telephony via tablets or smartphones there may be more problems. In terms of weaning people off such social media addictions, I honestly think we'll see some Facebook Anonymous groups popping up in the not too distant future.

The world is changing fast thanks to the enhanced ways we have to communicate. That may not always be a good thing. There is such a thing as anti-social networking and there is such a thing as lack of productivity.

I think both of these things will become bigger issues in the next year or two.

No comments: