Dangers of Social Networking in the Workplace Kenneth Morrow University of Maryland University College 18 March 2012 Abstract Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, MySpace are all social networking sites that the majority of today’s society have heard of and more than likely use on a daily basis. These sites can be useful tools for a plethora of information and do have added quality in the workplace.
However, if employers and employees do not use these sites properly or more importantly understand the dangers of social networking there can be alarming consequences that could include loss of occupation, serious liability claims, or never acquire employment at all. Constant vigilance and reminders that social networking is not private must be in the forethought of all employees and employers with consideration to the workplace. Dangers of Social Networking within the Workplace Introduction/Background:
Social networking has swept across the globe becoming not just part of our personal and work lives, but consuming our entire existence. There are benefits of social networking in the workplace that brings vast amounts of information and people together. One such benefit is recruiting for new employees. Very large corporations are starting to use social media tools, for instance LinkedIn, to troll online for potential job candidates. LinkedIn, has over 6 million followers, which has created a social networking Rolodex for potential employees.
One manager handling staffing for Starbucks swears by LinkedIn and claims to have hired several people recently as a result of her social networking (King, 2006). Unfortunately, there is a reverse side of social networking which can also be just as formidable. Some employees may have privacy issues with companies and feel they have been violated, especially with non-work-related sites, such as Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter. “A number of companies are using public social networks to spy on employees,” says Danah Boyd, a social media researcher and graduate student researcher at USC Annenberg Center for
Communication. These types of searches are legal by potential employers because the information is voluntarily posted by the applicant for anyone to see. “You have to act like you’re always at work, and it doesn’t necessarily make people happy nor does it necessarily make good workers,” Boyd says. The potential employer should be advised that such activities must ignore any information that would be considered in protected categories, such as race or age to avoid any legal consequences (Baker, 2008).
Social networking provides a dimension that can never be erased, eliminates privacy, and is extremely difficult to monitor and track. Social networking poses a diverse challenge to the workplace, which employees and employers who post their lives on-line via blogs, LinkedIn, MySpace, Twitter and Facebook reveal the good, the bad, and the ugly. This lively approach to posting often leads to problems in hiring and employee relations as well as employers learning too much information about their employees.
Social networking is a tool that can be used by both employees and employers, and like any tool it is important to understand how to use this powerful tool in a safe and efficient manner. The dangers associated with the misuse and misunderstanding of social networking can be devastating in the workplace for both employees and employers, therefore it is essential to study those dangers in order to avoid them. Results/Discussion: People around the world record their lives on social networking sites; sharing personal information, photographs, and personal opinions.
By using sites such as Facebook, MySpace, or Twitter, to keep up to date with friends, to express them, or to find compatible people, they do not realize and frequently overlook that the information they post may have importance to future employers. Some employers have even withdrawn probable job offers based on information posted on a social networking site (Information, 2010). Companies have been utilizing search engines like Yahoo and Google to perform background checks on possible employees.
But now, it appears that employers are switching to social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, or Twitter, to investigate applicants to find potential employees frequently posting risque or provocative photos or jokingly comment about drinking or illicit drug use, and sexual exploits which they erroneously believe to be fun and private. However, when viewed by the company recruiter such posts can make the potential employee look adolescent and unprofessional. “It’s a growing phenomenon,” said Michael Sciola, director of the career resource center at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn. There are lots of employers that Google. Now they’ve taken the next step,” which is conducting unofficial background checks on potential employees. At New York University, employers from over 30 companies informed career counselors that they viewed potential employees’ social networking sites. Trudy G. Steinfeld, executive director of the center for career development declared “The term they’ve used over and over is red flags,” Ms. Steinfeld said. “Is there something about their lifestyle that we might find questionable or that we might find goes against the core values of our corporation? (Finder, 2006) A 2006 survey reported that at least one in four employers used the internet to obtain personal information on employees, and 10 percent had specifically used social networking sites to obtain information. The majority of those employers did not hire the prospective employee after conducting the social networking search, having found information that showed the prospective employee handled themselves online in such an unprofessional behavior as to warrant a rejection letter.
In order to show a trend in the growing use of the use of social networking as a tool for employee information gathering there was another survey just one year later found 44% of a different group of employers to have engaged in the practice of surfing social networking sites to gather information on employees (Bennett-Alexander & Hartman, 2009) and in 2011 social media monitoring service Reppler conducted a study using a random sample of 300 individuals involved in the hiring process of a company that showed a massive 91% of the employers polled use social networking sites to screen prospective employees.
More troublingly for applicants, 69% say they have rejected a candidate because of something they saw on one of these social platforms, 47% of those employers check social networking sites to screen prospective employees immediately after receiving their job application, and Facebook is checked by 76% of employers, followed by Twitter (53%) and LinkedIn (48%) (Bennett, 2011). Using social networking sites appears to becoming the norm not only for recruitment, but also for information gathering on employees in general. In 2011 alone the following employees were fired from their jobs because of their employer’s use of ocial networking: A Charlotte, NC, teacher was fired by her superintendent after posting remarks that her superintendent perceived as racially insensitive. She posted “teaching chitlins in the ghetto of Charlotte” in her “Interests” section and “I am teaching in the most ghetto school in Charlotte” in her “About Me” section on Facebook. 13 Virgin Airlines crew members were fired after posting discussions of the aspects of their job on Facebook, they shared the number of times aircraft engines had been replaced and that the cabins were bug-ridden with cockroaches.
Additionally, they found posts insulting passengers. Sister Maria Jesus Galan from the Santo Domingo el Real convent in Toledo, Spain, was fired after “spending too much time on Facebook. ” Her fellow nuns said that her Facebook activity “made life impossible,” this all after she used the computer to digitize the convent’s archives and help handle banking over the Internet. A young North Carolina waitress was fired after blasting two customers on Facebook for not tipping and making her work late.
She had also mentioned the restaurant by name (Love, 2011). The proof is out there that employers are using social networking as a tool to gain and maintain the most qualified and professional employees that society has to offer. If someone is or plans to be employed, it is important to understand that sites like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and LinkedIn are not private and that employers know it. Employees are not the only ones at danger of social networking though and they do have rights when it comes to employers “checking them out” on the internet.
There are many legal and ethical issues that employers need to be concerned with when using social networking as a tool. There are several regulations which protect people from discrimination. Specific regulations that employers should be aware of if they practice the use of social networking includes: Americans with Disabilities Act which states it is unlawful to discriminate against someone because they are disabled; Age Discrimination in Employment Act does not allow the discrimination based on age; Title VII which is based on discrimination of protected characteristics such as race or religion.
If an employer is probing a potential employee’s MySpace site their impression of the potential employee may or may not lead to allegations that may bring charges of discrimination. An excuse “in the best interest of the company” may be insufficient, because even the appearance of discrimination can be incentive for a lawsuit. Exactly how could this transpire? A potential employee applies for a job and the company uncovers incriminating information on their Facebook page and decides not to hire the potential employee.
The potential employee states, “You didn’t hire me because you saw (fill in the blank) on my Facebook page, that’s discrimination. ” litigation is inevitable. The employer must avoid the possibility that the information obtained from the social networking could cast doubt on the validity of their hiring choices (Fishman & Morris, 2010). Another concern for employers is the “common-law doctrine of respondeat superior,” which was established to define the legal liability of an employer for the actions of an employee.
It provides a better chance for an injured party to actually recover damages, because under respondeat superior the employer is liable for the injuries caused by an employee who is working within the scope of his employment relationship, even if the agents are acting independently, also known as “vicarious liability. ” Employers must also be aware of what their employees are using social networking for or they could be held liable for the employee’s actions under the claims of negligent training and negligent supervision, particularly when wrongful actions occur in the workplace.
Ten women brought lawsuits against a Wisconsin security company which was ultimately found liable for negligent training and supervision because a manager posted several photos of identification cards of a customer which he had defaced in an offensive manner on social networking sites, all while at work. Another malicious example of employee related liability issues from social networking is that nearly everyone in today’s society has a cell phone with camera or video recorders, and the famous website YouTube provides an easy unrestricted opportunity for their deeds even at the workplace.
Domino’s Pizza faced a nearly tragic episode when two employees recorded another employee stuffing cheese in his nose and then inserting the cheese in a sandwich on YouTube. A company could be held liable for defamation or various other privacy violations due to the actions of their employees (Advisen Ltd, 2010). In early 2011 the National Labor Relations Board, which is a federal agency that oversees employees’ rights, saw its first ever wrongful termination lawsuit that was a result of social networking.
The National Labor Relations Board judge had to determine whether a medical-transportation company illegally fired a worker after she criticized her superior on Facebook. The case ended with a settlement and the women did not get her job back, but the medical-transportation company did agree to revise its policies that had prohibited employees from condemning the company or its supervisors on social networking sites (NewsCore, 2011). In this case and many others in 2011 the lawsuit was either dismissed or resolved with a settlement.
The National Labor Relations Board still has numerous current cases and many more are on their way. Many of these claims may, by no means lead to an actual case, and different laws could be on the horizon which would adjust company’s liability, but currently social networking continues to be a danger for employers and they need to learn to tread lightly on the social networking’s thin ice of liability. Now that the concerns of the employer use of social networking have been proven to be dangerous from the employees as well there is still one more danger that can affect both the employee and the employer, “social engineering. Social engineering is a term that describes a non-technical kind of intrusion that relies heavily on human interaction and often involves tricking other people to break normal security procedures (“Social Engineering,” 2001). “Phishing” is another term that is closely related to social engineering, but is a more familiar term with regards to social networking. Companies are frequently targeted by social engineers by approaching employees in effort to obtain private company information, for the purpose of fraud, theft, identity or information theft, and other crimes.
This practice is dangerous to companies because the employee typically does not even realize or suspect any wrongful doing. Social engineering is done without force, and with innocent consent. Social engineers easiest tool for their malicious intentions is through social networking sites. Social engineers use sites like Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, You Tube, or Twitter, to attain information about an employee in order to trick and persuade that employee into providing them with protected, classified, or valuable information about their company.
A typical scenario of how social engineers use social networking as a tool to sabotage a company would be if they fraudulently accessed the Facebook account of a company worker named Brian. The hacker then poses as “Brian,” sending an e-mail to a co-worker, John. While at work on his company computer John opens the e-mail which has an attachment marked “pictures of the company Cinco De Mayo fiesta. ” John, who had a little too much to drink at the company party quickly triers to view the photos to ensure there is nothing embarrassing, however there are no photos.
Upon opening the e-mail, he unintentionally downloaded a hacking device to attain John’s log-in id/password and allowed access to the company’s server, ultimately giving the social engineer access to the company’s accounts. The social engineer could then change billing, shipping, or any of the company’s accounts. Essential company information was compromised by a simple suggestion to open some photos via social networking on a company computer that was remarkably easily hacked. This Scenario shows how a social engineer simply views a social network site to obtain fundamental information to eventually attain critical information.
While on Facebook at home, Steve posts “I can wear shorts to work for a week while my supervisor is on a business trip, because the temporary supervisor does not know the dress standards. ” A social engineer that has been spying on Steve’s company using a mixture of outlets and sources, notices this, and sees an opportunity. The next day at work, Steve receives a phone call. “Hello Steve, this is Mark Johnson; I will be your temporary supervisor while Jim is out this week”. With some suspicion, but not suspecting anything Steve replies with “Jim thought Ralf Jones was taking care of that? The professional social engineer uses one of his tricks by informing Steve “Well you know how these temporary transfers work, they are always changing. Anyways, I am trying to log into the company network here and I can’t open the database I need. The IT dept. is behind and informed me that I could use your log in and password since you use the database I need, until they can get to my temporary log in. So, I think I have your username as SRobertson? Still unaware of the malicious intent Steve willing informs Mark with “Actually Mark, it is SRoertson12 and the password is SR1234. The social engineer with the information he needed responds with “Thanks Steve, I look forward to working with you this week and give me a call if you need anything. ” Social engineers sound and act like innocent, convincing people, but in this one example all it took was just a simple viewing of an employee’s social networking site coupled with a phone call can put both the employer and the employee in a very difficult and possibly expensive situation (Gonzalez, 2011). Conclusions: Obviously social network is here to stay and has rapidly become an enormous part of almost everyone’s lives.
It can be a great force multiplier for companies who are trying to find the right person for the right job. It allows people to communicate easier, quicker, and more frequently than ever before. As spectacular as social networking is or will become it is extremely important that both current and future employees, as well as their employers know that with the power of social networking comes a great responsibility. If social networking in the workplace is not understood or is misused there can be dire consequences with its use.
Social networking’s principal problem in the workplace is that the sites are bursting with personal information on companies and employees. Job hunters and current employees should be cautioned that suggestive exposures and immature activities posted on their social media sites may threaten their career aspirations. Companies are also at risk and face their own challenges for mistakes and legal woes that they or even their employees are making in the virtual social media world. References Advisen Ltd. (2010).
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New York: McGraw-Hill. Finder, A. (2006, June 11). For Some, Online Persona Undermines a Resume. New York Times. Retrieved March 6, 2012, from http://www. nytimes. com/2006/06/11/us/11recruit. html? _r=4&adxnnl=1&oref Fishman, N. , & Morris, J. (2010). Recruiting with Social Networking Sites: What you DO know can hurt you [Brochure]. Retrieved March 9, 2012, from http://www. employeescreen. com/whitepaper_social_networking. pdf Gonzalez, M. (2011, August 11). Dangers of Social Networking Sites; Businesses, Job Seekers, Children and Adults Beware! Retrieved March 9,