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Social computing at the workplace part 2

July 24, 2010

So, the other day I let you in on my stance on the GSA vs. union social media policy debate. I think it’s an important issue, and one that those of us navigating the government/military use of social media need to pay attention to.

Some might find it surprising how strongly I side on with the GSA here – after all, I’m a huge supporter of milbloggers, and was a major proponent of opening up doors in allowing Soldiers to express themselves in the online space – because they’re already doing it, and it’s silly to stop them.

My belief in unfettered communication and free speech, however, has always been tempered by an understanding that if you are a government employee or Soldier, your words, especially when given in context of your position or during work hours, reflect on your place of employment. And no one – not even the private sector – has the right to say whatever they want, whenever they want, no matter the situation. In the private sector, people get fired for that kind of online communication. In the public sector, you face reprimands or for Soldiers, action within the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Our taglines when the Army first engaged with social media were “Education versus Regulation.” What that meant is that we had two choices with social media – we could completely regulate the space, down to what could and couldn’t be said, or we could simply educate Soldiers that we already had two policies that governed their online interactions, and those were the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and Operations Security. Basically, don’t say anything that puts yourself or your fellow Soldiers in danger, or which reflects poorly on you or the institution you represent. That has broad implications, and I always interpreted it as meaning if you have a Facebook profile photo of yourself in uniform, you’d best not use your status message to conduct hate speech or berate the president or any particular political party. And if you do, you’d best make sure you’re profile settings are so locked down that no one – including your first sergeant – can see what you’re posting.

Does that violate your free speech? I don’t think so. And if you do think so, you’re free to find another job where the standards you uphold are a little lower. We had very few instances where Soldiers couldn’t adhere to these basic guidelines, and if our military can do it, I don’t see how the GSA employees can’t.

Unlike the GSA, we didn’t have formal policy letters outlining the dos and don’ts. This was something that concerned me when I first started at the Army, in an arena where no policy generally means the policy is, don’t do it. But as I built the education program around Army social media I saw what a powerful force that education component was, and how, when done correctly, it was really much more effective than any policy could be.

That said, we knew many organizations within the military would want to establish loca guidelines – which is great. And it’s why I drafted our Army social media best practices. Check out page two – it outlines basic social computing guidelines which are very similar to the GSA policy.

I like that social media is opening up debate about the extent that free speech applies to our online interactions. I’ve always thought that the emerging technologies that have so impacted this latest generation will be a game changer when it comes to how we view our identities, not just online, but in many other contexts.

I’ll be following the issue, but certainly hope at the end of the day, common sense prevails and we maintain some standards of online communication, at least at the workplace. Disagree? I’d love to hear from you.

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