Social Media Policies Shouldn’t Rely on “Common Sense”

people-cubeSocial media policies that ask employees to “use common sense” when posting on social networks are inadequate.

As someone who’s written dozens of social media policies for all types of organizations, I think policies that use language like “don’t be an idiot” or “use good judgment” are obnoxious, because they assume everyone perceives publicly archived conversations the same way.

They don’t!

Very few people agree on what type of personal information is okay to make public versus what ought to be kept private.

We just don’t collectively perceive issues like ethics, transparency, privacy or security the same way. Everyone has a little different opinion of what is and isn’t considered acceptable social media use.

So using a term like “common sense” — particularly when it comes to the emerging hybrid public information/communications channel that is social media — is sloppy. Loose policies invite ambiguity. Lack of clarity and specificity leads to disputes, disputes lead to litigation, and litigation is expensive and usually counterproductive.

In my experience developing and reviewing social media policies for organizations, too many social media policies deploy “common sense” as a rhetorical catchall phrase for exercising good sense online. But in practice, when it comes to having public conversations that get archived on social networks, good judgment is more a work-in-progress than universally agreed theme.

It may seem like “common sense” that you should be able to access social networking accounts your coworker manages through her personal profiles if she’s incapacitated, especially if she’s willfully given you her user names and passwords for just that purpose. It would seem like by giving you her login info, she’s also giving you consent.

But that is not the case. If you access someone else’s social media profile, whether you’ve been given their credentials or not, you incur significant liability. What’s common about that?  Nothing.  It might also seem like common sense that employers can’t access personal messages on social media without violating their workers’ personal privacy, but under certain circumstances, they can.

It may also seem like common sense that sharing something on Facebook doesn’t forfeit copyright. And it doesn’t. But what you don’t know is that while you retain ownership, you also grant Facebook (and all other social networks) a nonexclusive, fully-paid and royalty free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to reuse it or license it to others as many times as they want.

So if you’re looking to develop or update social media policy, rather than ask your employees think like you think, tell them specifically what is and isn’t accepted. And them make sure you actually teach them to comply.