Friday, August 27, 2010

Germany seems poised to limit use of primarily social networking sites, like Facebook, for employment purposes. Although news reports suggest that Facebook believes its privacy settings are sufficient, it seems that the legislators feel otherwise.  

This is not the same thing as a school district in Florida, in which the superintendent unilaterally banned teachers from using Facebook.

That pronouncement only exacerbates confusion over social networking, rather than clarifying confusing points and moving the conversation forward.  In the case of Florida, the issue that seems to have prompted the pronouncement is inappropriate communication between teachers and students.  Banning use of Facebook won't stop inappropriate communication--rather, it avoids the discussion about what is appropriate communication.

The German situation seems different.  It's motivated by a broader concern about what rights employers have when monitoring employees and potential employees, and is part of a bill that has much broader implications than just Facebook.  In addition to social networking, the proposed legislation apparently addresses issues like video monitoring and how employers handle suspected criminal activity.

The proposed legislation distinguishes between social networking sites primarily intended for work-related purposes, like LinkedIn, and those intended primarily for purely social purposes, like Facebook.  Although the news reports I've read do not comment on this, my guess is that the ultimate goal is to avoid situations like those in which bright, 22-year-old university graduates lose good job offers because an employer checked out the candidate's Facebook site, saw a party photo (which is what Facebook was intended for) that ruffled his or her feathers, and rescinded the offer.

Most discussions about the use of Facebook in workplace learning and communication have focused on ways to exploit Facebook for our purposes, without acknowledging the fundamental issue that Facebook was primarily intended for social purposes.

Certainly Facebook hasn't encouraged that acknowledgment, with privacy settings that are only easy to use in theory and, as a result, many users are sharing all of their data whether or not that's their intention.

But it behooves us workplace learning and communication professionals, who are supposed to be sensitive to issues of work-life balance, to recognize that a distinction exists between business and personal social networking sites, and we have a responsibility to launch that discussion.

Although I have a feeling that some social media enthusiasts will not respond enthusiastically to the proposed German legislation, as the lines between work and home life continue to blur, I have a feeling that the discussions of this issue will continue.

For more information about the German legislation, visit

The real issue with

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