Social Media Access by Employers


There was a kerfuffle in the news about employers demanding access to employees’ social media site. The stories stated the employers asked for the employees’ passwords, in addition to their usernames. In response, at least six states have started the legislative process to prevent employers from demanding that access.

As you might expect, the tricky part is defining “social media.” William Carleton put together a collection of the proposed definitions and grades for the legislative definition of social media.

Her is New Jersey’s attempt, as an example:

“’Social networking website’ means an Internet-based service that allows individuals to construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system created by the service, create a list of other users with whom they share a connection within the system, and view and navigate their list of connections and those made by others within the system.”

Not surprisingly, the best rated definition was the one that did not have a definition. By defining a social media site, you risk the sites evolving to no longer fit within the definition.

My beef was that the definitions were focused like a laser on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. They fail to cover web publishing sites like blogs. There is a follow-up post that offers some suggested improvements.

My two cents was that these social media sites should allow employers to monitor employees:

“In the financial services industry, there are regulatory requirements to monitor employees’ interactions with customers. That’s easy to do with platforms controlled by the firm, like email, but difficult with the ever-changing platforms in social media. The solution. The social media platform should allow a company to monitor an employee’s account provided the company pays a monitoring fee. Of course the employee will need to consent to the monitoring. The platform gets a revenue stream and the company gets the monitoring and record-keeping it needs. The employee ends up with ‘big brother’ but only if the company thinks it’s a big enough problem that it is willing to pay the monitoring fee.”

If you charge the company, they will limit the explicit monitoring to those instances when the cost/benefit makes economic sense.

With the constantly evolving privacy settings on the platforms, it’s often hard to be certain who can see what piece of information can be seen by whom. But it should not be hard on the back end for a social media site to create an archive for monitoring purposes.

This will also open up these sites for more prolific use by those who have a regulatory requirement that otherwise limits access.