Protect Employees from their Social Ghosts But Don’t Rush Bad Social Media Rules

A new survey looking at how teens perceive the Internet reinforces the need to think seriously about how and whether employers should be allowed access to employees’ social media accounts. Striking the right balance could have a profound impact on the next generation of workers, whose entire lives have played out online.

The survey, performed by Hart Research Associates, found 31% of teens are concerned that their social behaviors online will “haunt” them when it comes time to apply for colleges and jobs.

The study blows holes in the notion that teens are oblivious or uncaring about the long-term affects of their online behaviors. It paints a picture of a generation of Internet savvy teens who grasp the extent to which the Internet has lengthened the half-life of youthful indiscretion.

The measure may also heap more fuel on the fire of legislative efforts to limit employers’ ability to use employees’ social media histories against them

This study paints a picture of a generation of Internet savvy teens who grasp the extent to which the Internet has lengthened the half-life of youthful indiscretion.

But before legislators begin taking pen to parchment they must understand how these these laws could potentially harm the very people they aim to protect.

Lawmakers will almost certainly have to confront this issue, but how they confront it will be of critical importance.

For instance, the Hart research found that just below concerns about future employers and schools, 23% of teens were also troubled by the rise of online harassment and bullying.

So what happens if the legislative fixes we put in place to stop the first problem, exacerbated the second?

Companies routinely investigate allegations of employees harassing co-workers and causing unsafe work environments.  But a social media restriction could easily be phrased so broadly that it severely limits the capacity of employers to perform such review.

In fact, it may have already happened, in the form of an employer social media bill currently awaiting Gov. Chris Christie’s signature in New Jersey.  In that bill, the goals of protecting employees from nosey employers may at the same time make the work environment less safe.

NetChoice has argued that while the measure is well meaning, it must be amended to preserve the flexibility of employers to perform basic, positive functions like protecting their own workers.

The Internet has changed the way the world works, and sometimes careful, targeted Internet-focused legislation makes sense. But we have to step carefully, lest we cause bigger issues than the ones we are solving.

On the Internet, the old adage holds true: “measure twice, cut once.”

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