Employers vs Facebook. Privacy Breach or Reputation Protection?

There has been a great deal of media reporting lately about employers using Facebook as a method for monitoring their online reputation, and also for monitoring both the activities and the comments of their employees.

Given that so many of use Facebook every day to update our mood, our movements, our likes and dislikes, and given that this information is highly public, this is a real case of ‘user beware’ in an online environment where there are few guidelines and many potentially serious pitfalls.

Recently I have heard of many people who have indulged in the great Australian national sport of taking a ‘sickie’, only to then access their own Facebook profile to let the world know what they were REALLY doing with their time off.  Many employees have discovered, to their peril, just how seriously employers take any criticism about them personally or about their businesses uploaded by employees onto Facebook.  It also has been used as a tool to monitor just how much of work time employees spend on social media such as Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites, when they should be actually working.  This is assuming,  of course, that using social media is not an actual part of their daily job description, which is becoming more common, and this new development causes additional layers of complexity.

This is a growing problem for employers and managers in Australia, when you consider that, according to research done by Neilsen:

  • Australians spend an average of six hours and 52 minutes per month on social media sites, the largest time allocation of any country in the world;
  • The reach of social media in Australia is also large, with Nielsen estimating a unique reach of 9.9m Australians per month;
  • The use of social media was by far the most popular preoccupation of people’s online time, far ahead of instant messaging and computer gaming; and
  • The rapid global growth of social media, which between 2008 and 2009 had increased at the rate of 82% in just one year.

You can read more of the fascinating findings of this report here

All of this does raise serious questions about where exactly is the fine line drawn between an employer’s right to defend their own personal reputation and that of their company, and the right of employees to freedom of expression and to the preservation of their personal information.  One thing you can be sure of is that most, if not all employers these days will ‘Google’ you as part of their vetting and shortlisting process while drawing up a shortlist of applicants to be interviewed.

Like most tricky questions, there are no easy answers, and as has happened many times throughout history, the development and implementation of the technology has happened far too quickly for our legal and regulatory framework to keep up.

In the meantime, perhaps it is worthwhile following the advice of a friend of mine, who found the best filter for her own use of Facebook was to ‘friend’ older members of her family, like Aunts and Uncles, and if it wasn’t fit for them to read, then it was not appropriate to upload it.  And once you upload something,  try as you might, that is a bell that cannot be ‘unrung’.  Food for thought.

Yours in PR,



  1. On the subject of people accessing social media sites or any not work related sites whilst at work I am getting increasingly annoyed with a local Perth radio station that has started promoting their web site with comments like “When you get to work in the morning make (site name) your first stop” etc etc I’m not a boss or anything but come on. I think it’s a bit much.

  2. Well I guess this is what it is and as much as we want to talk about privacy the reality is if one wants privacy, get away from Social Networks (at least for now)

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