Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Use of social networking sites poses new challenges

Commentary by Barbara Moss • July 21, 2009 Many companies already have policies in place about workers' Internet and e-mail use. With the advent of social networks, such as Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and Twitter, companies are faced with new problems and the potential need for a new policy. To begin with, companies should be wary about the potential for employees and ex-employees to post negative, and even defamatory statements about the company on these Web sites. This problem has spawned a new category of service that's now being offered by "reputation defenders" and "reputation managers," who promise to search the Internet regularly to help companies and individuals deal with negative information. A written policy also could help shield a company from a defamation lawsuit if employees have been posting negative, untrue information about other companies or individuals. Employees have been known to post proprietary information online, including intellectual property that is trademarked or copyrighted. Information that employees post online can be discovered during litigation and used against the company. Finally, and perhaps most important, employees can waste a lot of time on social networking sites. A policy on the use of social networking sites should cover all of these topics. Employees should be told not to publish negative information about the company or about any other company or individual. Employees should be reminded that the company has proprietary information and, if appropriate, information protected by the laws concerning intellectual property. That information should never be disclosed in any way, including by posting on social networking sites. No expectation of privacy Employees should be reminded that anything that they write could be discovered during potential litigation. They should be careful not to post any defamatory or discriminatory material. Professional employees — such as accountants, lawyers, medical staff and journalists — should be reminded not to give any advice over the Internet, including on social networking sites. Finally, employees should be reminded that computers are for business use only. They have no expectation of privacy when they use their computers on company time. The company can and should reserve the right to monitor computer use when necessary. Moss is an attorney with the law firm of Stites & Harbison who concentrates her practice on workplace issues. Contact her at Barbara.Moss@stites.com

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