Friday, August 31, 2007

Facebook, the Workplace, and the Academy

Facebook Several major employers -- in the U.S. and elsewhere, have taken to banning employees from using social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace in the workplace.  British union TUC says employers should lighten up:

[W]hilst employers are completely within their rights to forbid staff from using sites such as Facebook, MySpace or Bebo in work time, a total ban may be something of an over-reaction.  Instead the TUC suggests that sensible employers, realising that their staff spend much of their waking hours in work and lead busy lives, should be trusted to spend a few minutes of their lunchbreak 'poking' their friends or making plans for outside work.

My take: the times are a'changing, and employers should consider how social networking sites can be used to their advantage.  Networking sites can be a great way to keep up with an extended network of friends, acquaintances, and -- yes -- workplace colleagues, customers, and fellow-professionals.

This summer, I set up Facebook and MySpace pages as a sort of informal faculty web page.  Though MySpace has generated nothing but spam (and the blinking ads make the site appear less-than-professional), Facebook has proven to be a great way to keep in touch with my students, to make me a little more accessible to them, and occasionally even to discuss matters pertaining to classes and the law school.  Check out my page by going to facebook and running a search on "Rick Bales."

One of the interesting things about facebook is how it can blur the line between the personal and the professional.  Because my site is designed to be professional rather than personal, I've omitted any references to my dating life or proclivities, and I've given a copy of my password to my dean.  I wouldn't expect professors who use facebook for purely personal matters to do the same.  Nonetheless, I'm sure it's only a matter of time before a professor gets into trouble for using the social networking sites inappropriately.  So, while I'm willing to experiment with the sites as a way to communicate with a generation a few years younger than I am, I'm bending over backwards to keep everything above-board.


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