Social networking can be a tool and a curse.
Attorney Dorothy Bollinger brought that message to Warren on Thursday morning in a program entitled "Social Networking: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly." The program was hosted by Jamestown Community College and the Warren County Chamber of Business and Industry, and was possible through the sponsorship of several local businesses.
Bollinger offered a wealth of information regarding social networks in terms of legality, company policy and privacy.
"Social networking is primarily used to facilitate communication, collaboration, information exchange, streamlining process and fostering productivity," she said.
Social media tools include social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, blogging, microblogging like Twitter and podcasts.
While social networking provides many opportunities for connecting with people or, in the case of businesses, potential consumers, there are many dangers.
Too much information
Bollinger often recommends that users think before they post and not post anything they would not want to see on the front page of the newspaper or would not want their kids to see.
"The Internet doesn't forget information," she said.
In addition, users should be careful of what type of information they share. For example, don't share personal information about children, other employees and others.
In the case of Stacy Snyder vs. Millersville University, a social networking decision affected a student's future. Snyder was a student teacher when a picture of her was discovered on her MySpace with the caption "drunken pirate." The high school where she was student-teaching gave her an unsatisfactory rating and the university, in turn, didn't grant her an education degree. Snyder sued the university, but the court sided with the school.
Another danger area is disclosing a person's location. One social networking site, Foursquare, is all about broadcasting where the user is and where they have gone.
"This also tells people where you are not," Bollinger said. "What has been happening is a lot of robberies because of this disclosure through Facebook and Foursquare.
Social networks and the work place
Information and photos on public social networking profiles are out on the Internet for everyone, including employers, to see.
"There's no law against you (employers) accessing social networking sites of employees and applicants," Bollinger said.
She added that the information has to be in a public portion of the social networking site and that employers cannot coerce others with access to provide passwords.
Companies can also set policies pertaining to the use of company information on social networking sites. Bollinger also suggests instituting guidelines for the use of social networking sites by employees. For example, a school district may encourage teachers to not befriend or link to students through such sites.
However, Bollinger added, "You cannot say (an employee) cannot be a member of a website discussion group" or social networking site because that impedes on their First Amendment right to free speech.
Even though information on a private profile cannot be viewed by an employer without the employee granting access, information on a private profile may be accessible through litigation.
In the case of Equal Employment Opportunity Council (EEOC) vs. Simply Storage Management, LLC., two employees lodged sexual harassment complaints and claimed emotional distress. The employer sought information from the employees' private social networking accounts to view any information that could prove or disprove emotional distress. Although the EEOC objected, the court allowed the discovery.
"Where you claim severe emotional distress" the company may be able to access information in a private profile, Bollinger said.
She added, "If it's relevant to your case, you have the right to the data."
In terms of company-issued devices, the employer has legal access to the information stored. Additionally, Bollinger said if an employee puts company information on a personal device, the employer has the legal right to access the information with a bonafide reason.
Asked if employers should have access to social networking on company-owned devices, Bollinger said, "I think that's really up to the company."
However, she did recommend the development of acceptable use policies and administration regulation and guidelines.