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It’s important that you and your employees know that what is said on Facebook is available in the public domain- it’s not just a whinge to your friends.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. People are essentially the same across cultures; everyone wants to let off steam after work, and sometimes complain about their colleagues, boss or the company. But at a conference in Sydney this week, reported in an article by HR Daily, barrister Elizabeth Raper pointed out that social media “is not a private conversation at the pub”.

We tend to think of most Facebook users as being fairly computer and tech savvy, but as the world changes to embrace the burgeoning world of social media, perhaps we need to look more carefully at how we conduct ourselves online.

Addressing the 2012 Labour Law Conference, Raper said she is often asked why making derogatory comments on Facebook is any different from just having a whinge with your mates at the pub.

You’d think it would be straightforward enough. If you go online you are publishing, and everything you say is on the public record. Not only that, but your comments have the potential to be read by thousands of people and can never really be erased.

There’s been a lot of discussion recently about how the ethics and ease with which employers can check potential and current employees’ Facebook and other social media pages, and if they can use the information they find there to decide whether to hire or not, or to check if employees are a good culture fit with the organisation. But it can work both ways. If employees go online and make derogatory comments about their employers or organisation, then a lot of damage can occur.

Employees treating Facebook like a private conversation with their friends can easily damage professional reputations and give away trade secrets. It’s easy to see how that could snowball into livelihoods and profit.  And it’s worth remembering that even our private conversations in public can be overheard, as Greg Savage, Global CEO of Firebrand Talent Search, hilariously points out in this Savage Truth blog.

Raper said about the important difference between comments on social media and private conversations, “The difference is this: there’s a wider audience; it can be on-sent to other people and out of context; it’s often communicated to work colleagues; there’s a permanent record; and it can be republished time and time again.”

It’s a salutary warning for employers and employees alike, especially when social networking is being incorporated more and more into our business and marketing strategies.

It’s natural and healthy to have a quiet moan with mates or colleagues, but there are dangerous lines between privately blowing off steam and public comment and publication. Both employers and employees need to be aware of the huge changes and ramifications that the wonder of social media brings about.

Human nature doesn’t change, but technology does, and we need to keep an eye on what that means for all of us.


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Lynette Jensen

Lynette Jensen

Lynette Jensen is fascinated by the junction of work and life, and is committed to helping people achieve work-life balance through good career fit. She is a director and co-founder of business psychology practice Genesys Australia and writes a regular <a href="http://www.genesysaustralia.com/?page_id=524">blog</a> about the world of work and life.

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