Legal and Ethical Challenges of Corporate Social Networking

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Many corporations have embraced online social networking to supplement their marketing programs and communications with employees, customers, vendors, and others. Corporations also use social networking to discover inappropriate employee behavior, encourage productivity, recruit individuals, and investigate job applicants and current employees.

In spite of the advantages, corporations should investigate many risks involved with their use of Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and related sites. This chapter summarizes the legal and ethical risks of corporate-based social networking and provides recommendations on how to reduce them. Social networking is fraught with potential legal problems associated with at-will employment, discrimination, privacy, fair credit reporting, labor relations, vicarious liability, defamation, and unauthorized access to data. Ethical problems relate to the questionable accuracy and relevancy of information, loss of corporate secrets, and diminished productivity.

Many corporations currently rely upon social networking to achieve various objectives, but not many of them have policies in place to protect themselves from the potential risks involved. These companies should adopt policies that not only restrict what can be placed on a social network within the corporation, but also control how information obtained from social networks is used and disseminated. Based on legal and ethical literature on social networks, this chapter discusses the possible elements a social networking policy might contain and provides a sample employee handbook social networking policy whose theme focuses on presenting and receiving job-related information. Corporate-based social network communications should be monitored to ensure job-relatedness and limit inappropriate communications involving financial, confidential, proprietary, and personal issues. Clear disciplinary consequences associated with inappropriate use of social networking should be shared within corporations.

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