Editor’s comment: social networking and all that online stuff

With the growing popularity of internet networking sites such as Facebook, companies are leaving themselves open to legal action.

As with blogs, reputations are at stake, as what often starts as a throw-away joke among friends on your Facebook ‘wall’ can lead to embarrassing and career-threatening incidents.

You cannot have failed to miss the media debate about widespread banning of the use of such websites by employers. A recent Evening Standard poll showed more than two-thirds of London firms had either banned or limited access with warnings to employees that ‘Facebooking’ during office hours is a sackable offence. British Gas, the Met, and Lloyds TSB all reportedly now have internet filters preventing sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Bebo and Hotmail being viewed at work.

Monitoring of staff internet use and banning access to certain websites will be covered under human rights legislation, and it will be down to employers to set fair parameters about what is acceptable.

But is a total ban the right way forward? With Web 2.0 currently being used as part of every-day business, employers have a fine line to tread. They need to develop policies that are flexible enough to cover web developments, or face a backlash of staff complaints. And there’s already evidence that companies are u-turning their earlier decisions to impose a total ban. If you’re in a quandary about what to do, read our feature on social networking sites. You might also like to check out the legal advice on corporate social networking.

The legal implications of networking on company time are a potential minefield. Then there’s the growth of cyber bullying – one of the hottest new areas of employment law. And contrary to what many people may think, content in cyberspace can’t elude the law – a posting on a community site can constitute a defamatory publication. As employers, you need to make this clear to your employees.

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