#explainittome

September 4, 2014

Re “Legal scholar’s ‘political’ tweets ruffle a few feathers” (News, 21 August). Social media sites tend to have long and complex terms of use and privacy policies that basically state that the sites can commodify all personal data of their users. There is a tendency for organisations to imitate this bureaucratisation of social media and to design social media use policies for their employees. There is a danger that control of social media accounts results in a violation of the freedom of information and speech and that control is exercised against those who voice critical opinions.

A simple rule that should be applied here is that individual users using individual accounts are liable for what they say, and not the organisations for which they work. It is different if it is a profile that represents a department, a faculty or a university.

A related problem that has resulted in conflicts is who owns a Twitter account that somebody uses in a professional role – the employee or the organisation? And what happens to it if the person leaves the organisation and starts working for another one?

Again, a simple rule can help. If it is an organisational profile – such as the one of a faculty or a department – then the organisation owns the account. If it is an individual employee, then he or she owns it.

In most cases, employees have better ideas on how to use and regulate social media than the management of organisations. Management ought perhaps to simply ask employees what are the best practices and rules for social media use.

Christian Fuchs
Professor of social media
University of Westminster

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