Rise of the social not-worker

2007

It's well documented that the cyber dirt you leave on social networks such as Facebook and MySpace can come back to haunt you later on in your career. Yet most young people blithely continue to ignore the risks, while employers are getting increasingly tough with social networking time-wasters.

A study by British internet security firm Clearswift has reported that half of HR managers have had to discipline staff for time wasting on the Internet and two thirds are blocking access to Facebook.

The finding comes as the UK's Information Commissioner has warned that millions of young Britons are continuing to put themselves and their future careers at risk by posting embarrassing or compromising details on social networking websites.

The power of such sites has been illustrated by research from the Royal Mail and think-tank The Future Foundation that has found that online word-of-mouth recommendations, often through social networking sites, are becoming an increasingly important part of the retail landscape.

Two thirds of the so-called "recommendation generation" – young, educated, urban social networkers – said they were more likely to buy a product as a result of an online recommendation, or what has been glibly termed "word of mouse".

Yet the Clearswift research, which polled more than 300 senior HR professionals, found half have either encountered or had had to discipline employees for time-wasting on the internet.

Two thirds now denied their employees access to social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and Bebo.

And four out of 10 had encountered or had to disciplined staff for accessing pornographic sites in the workplace.

Yet one in five also conceded they were unfamiliar with the Web 2.0 technologies that were behind so many social networking sites and sites such as Wikipedia.

"Given that social networking sites have only really taken off in the past two years and the amount of internet disciplinary incidents HR professionals have encountered, it's little wonder that many companies perceive social networking sites as a threat," said Stephen Millard, vice-president of strategy at Clearswift.

"However, it is important for businesses to understand the vast benefits of secure Web 2.0 access. Consumers are increasingly turning to social networking on the Internet for all aspects of their daily life and as a result they expect to be able to interact with businesses through the same media," he added.

"Innovative HR departments are already recruiting through Web 2.0 sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Second Life, and by taking advantage of these technologies in a secure way they are gaining competitive advantage," he continued.

The research found that HR professionals relied on IT departments to identify what they saw as breaches and enforce policies.

Surprisingly, HR staff were not involved at all in policy development, monitoring use and identifying breaches.

In fact, fewer than half of HR professionals were working with IT on developing policies and only a fifth were involved in monitoring employee internet use in any way, as opposed to more than eight out of 10 IT departments.

More than half of HR managers polled said they were notified by IT if a breach had occurred.

The Information Commissioner's Office research, meanwhile, found that more than half of the 2,000 14- to 21-year-olds polled blithely made public most of the information they posted on such sites.

Yet more than seven out of 10 admitted they would not want colleges or employers to do a web search on them before they had removed some material.

Two thirds accepted as friends on such websites people they did not even know. Some 60 per cent posted their date of birth, a quarter put their job title and almost one in 10 gave their home address.

ICO deputy commissioner David Smith said: "Many young people are posting content online without thinking about the electronic footprint they leave behind.

"The cost to a person's future can be very high if something undesirable is found by the increasing number of education institutions and employers using the internet as a tool to vet potential students or employees," he added.