Social media is considered any form of electronic communication through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, messages, and other content. Social media includes internet forums, social blogs, wikis, microblogging (e.g. Twitter), social networks (e.g. Facebook), and many others. Social networking is the use of social media to communicate and interact with others.
The rate of take up by the population of social networking and the media is on the increase with the most popular being Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin. There are about 7.2 million You Tube users in South Africa, 6.6 million on Twitter, 4.9 million on Linkedin and 11.8 million users on Facebook . We can truly say that there has been an explosion of interest and useage of the social network media. With the workplace being a microcosm of society, the same explosion in the interest and useage of the social network media is being felt in the workplace. Notwithstanding the extent of the useage of the social network media, the field from a legal perspective is still developing and very much a green-field.
How should employers respond to the social network media pandemic? They should certainly ensure that the proper framework is in place so that, in an under-developed area as highlighted earlier, the rules set by employers in this arena provide consistency and clarity of understanding for employees on what is permissible, appropriate and acceptable and what is not. This would imply that employers should have a clear:
- Social media and networking strategy;
- Social media and networking policy;
- Should have a good communication and education process which outlines to employees the parameters within which their useage of the social network media can be exercised;
Social media is not specifically legislated by any specific law but there are a multiplicity of laws that would have application and whence employers and employees can take their direction. Some of these include the Employment Equity Act, the Electronic Communication Act, the Protection of Personal Information Act and the Consitution.
Given that at least 70% of employers have during 2015 reported having taken disciplinary action against employees for their improper use of the social network media, i thought it useful to provide some guidelines for employees on some of the do’s and don’ts attached to their use of the social media. The general yardstick to be applied is that one should never post any content which one would not want a colleague or the employer to view. If one does not mind the employer viewing that content then it is most probably fine to post that content. Other don’ts would include the following:
- Do not defame a colleague, manager or supervisor;
- Do not defame or bad-mouth the employer;
- Do not post any derogatory remarks and content. This does constitute grounds for dismissing an employee and there is case law to this effect;
- Do not post any content which is discrminatory;
- Do not release information which is considered to be of a proprietary and confidential nature into the public domain;
- Do not post any content which is of a sexually harassing nature;
- Do not post any content which relates to any activity which you have engaged in which is illegal or criminal in nature. An example could include the illegal use of narcotic substances;
- Do not post any content which would infringe on any copyright or trademark;
The field of social network media is a fast growing one but one which is to a large extent uncertain. When one considers that employers have the right to monitor and intercept certain communications by employees which may be of an electronic or online nature, then one wants to ensure that whatever use is made of the social network media is legitimate and would stand the tests of being high integrity, dignified, accurate and decent content. Similarly, one would expect that before acting against any employee for what is considered to be improper use of the social network media that employers have created a foundation of policy-making and education which provides clarity to employees about how to make proper use of the social network media.