Your boss has a say over you while you’re on the clock or using the boss’s equipment. But can the boss control what you say off-duty, on the Web? Officials in Kent County, Delaware, think so:

The county’s Levy Court — the equivalent of a county council — has an existing rule that bars employees from using government equipment for personal social media activity at work. But a recent proposal would extend that ban to include activity during non-work times, specifically as it relates to commentary that disparages co-workers or reflects unfavorably toward the county government [Brian Heaton, “Social Media Usage Becoming a Free Speech Question for Governments,” Government Technology, 2011.05.17 ].

As law professor Phillip Sparkes points out in this article, Kent County is going well beyond the boundaries on public employee speech set by Garcetti v Ceballos (2006). That case recognized that public employers can place some limits on what city officials, teachers, and other public employees say while acting in an official capacity. However, that case does not allow government to impose rules on off-duty speech like those proposed by Kent County.

Arvada, Colorado, CIO Michele Hovet offers a more realistic approach to public employees’ First Amendment rights:

“I think folks that draw lines as far as what you can and can’t do on your free time are avoiding the inevitable,” she said. “Social media has been here and it’s not going away. Locking it down is just going to create more management headaches in the long run” [Heaton, 2011.05.17].

People are going to talk… and Tweet. They’re going to use their smartphones and iPads to do so. Trying to control employees’ every utterance is unconstitutional and impractical. Instead of trying to keep employees from talking, local governments will make better use of their time working to treat employees and the public right so they all have good things to talk about.

Facebook has been getting lots of press and pie in the face over its shifting privacy policies. Social media expert danah boyd has led criticism of Facebook’s effort to devalue privacy for its own gain. She’s even suggested that we might regulate Facebook as a utility just like electricity or water works.

A new Pew report suggests we might not need to rush to regulate Facebook or other social media to protect privacy. Young users appear to be leading the way in figuring out how to control their own privacy online:

The Pew study found, for instance, that social networkers ages 18 to 29 were the most likely to change the privacy settings on their profiles to limit what they share with others online. The percentage who did so was 71 percent, compared with just 55 percent of the 50- to 64-year-old bracket. Meanwhile, about two-thirds of all social networkers who were surveyed said they’ve tightened security settings.

The survey also determined that:

  • about half of young people in that 18-29 bracket have deleted comments that others have made on their profile, compared with just 29 percent of those ages 30 to 49 and 26 percent of 50- to 64-year-olds. The numbers were similar when it came to social networkers who removed their names from photos that were tagged to identify them.
  • When asked how much they can trust social networking sites, 28 percent of the youngest adults surveyed said “never.” A fifth in the 30-49 bracket said that and just 14 percent of those ages 50 to 64 agreed.

[Martha Irvine, “Image-Conscious Youth Rein in Social Networking,” AP via Yahoo News, 2010.05.27]

I don’t advocate a completely unregulated, Wild-West Internet. We need rules, sometimes customs and mores, sometimes laws, to make any social undertaking work.

The social Web has been widely accessible for only a few years. Our Web customs and mores are still evolving. We’re only just realizing that the Web isn’t some exotic foreign land or desert island where we can indulge our inner streaker without consequence. The more we use it, the more we’ll get a sense of how it’s all connected and how we need to behave ourselves to maintain our reputations and privacy as we see fit.

We bloggers love to play with online toys. We believe a good blog or Facebook page or a nice peppy Twitter feed will work wonders on whatever business waves our magic wand.

New media Joanne Jacobs reminds us in no uncertain terms that social media advisors still have to know our business fundamentals:

…if you don’t know how to develop a strategy and a business plan and you can’t read a financial statement then you have no business giving advice about social media which claims success for a company, a product or even a region.  If you are planning a social media strategy or business, you are kidding yourself if you think your advice is separated from the costs associated with implementing your pearls of wisdom.  You’re a fraud.

So go out and learn to read and write these documents, or find someone who will do it for you, and learn enough to know whether the documents make sense.  Otherwise pack up and find another profession because you will fail [emphasis in original; Joanne Jacobs, “2010 and Social Media Advisors,” JoanneJacobs.net, 2009.12.30].

Better keep those project management textbooks on the shelf next to the HTML and Perl cookbooks!