Two situations. You tell me which one is more confusing.
1. You, and two colleagues are at a baseball game.
Halfway through the game, your chatter turns to work. One of your colleagues makes a comment to your other colleague that makes you intensely uncomfortable – perhaps it’s an attack on the second person, perhaps it’s a sexual slight against a fellow colleague not at the event. Either way, if it were in a workplace, it would be harrassment.
But you’re at a baseball game – a social event. Is it harrassment?
2. You post something on a colleague’s Facebook wall.
You intend it as a joke – but a third party, who is Friends with both of you, makes a complaint to HR, and all of the associated fun with a harrassment suit begins.
The comment was made off work hours, on your home computer – indeed, Facebook is blacklisted on the company network, and it’s impossible to make this kind of joke at work. But still, the complaint has been made.
Which one of these is the bigger problem?
This is an issue fundamental to the problem businesses have with social media; despite all sanctions, we’re still running into many of the same problems. In either of these situations, the trouble a business faces is whether or not these work-related comments are under their purview of care for their employees. Where does work end, and casual relationship begin?
We thought blacklists and policy would declaw the cat as far as social media goes, but people keep ending up with scratch marks.
This specific hypothetical came out of the #QNet2011 conference panels, where (Modern Earth client) Jeff Couture of The Proactive Circle spoke up during a question about harrassment and cyber wellness; his scenarios (the ones above) touch on this conundrum quite well.
Here’s the crux of it; there’s an assumption that people witness what we do in person, but do not witness what we do online.
In a group of three people, any comment is going to be heard by all three. Even if we suffer from filter failure once in a while, we can safely assume that anything said in that group should be the speaker’s real opinion. Thus, harrassment is obvious, and the only question is whether or not comments off the workplace clock and site will affect workplace performance.
Adding social media into the picture creates a new problem; socially, we’re not developed well yet to handle asynchronicity. It’s not a problem of people being any bolder, or relying on pseudo-anonymity. It’s the idea that we’re used to witnesses only being present at the time of the offence – whether we perceive an offence or not. But online, everything is on record. Even when we write blogs in our boxers, we’re on record. If we detail our bathroom habits, it’s on record.
If we praise or ridicule a coworker online, it’s on record. Temporal witness becomes eternal witness.
How do we deal with this?
Sure, we can censor ourselves, but that’s a patch not a fix. Sure, we can police public profiles in some instances – but what about the future, when all employees are expected to be social advocates for their companies, and proudly bear their corporate badges even when they sleep, through their social web presence?
This is foolish, magical thinking at best.
I really wish I had an answer for you on this one; should we be treating the social web the same, given the difference in assumption of witness? Or do we just need to grow better foresight and learn to account for asynchronous discovery or our communication failures?
What do you think?