Jitters over Twitter

July 9, 2009
Jitters over Twitter <!–10 min–>

Many companies have guidelines to ensure staff do not violate code of ethics

By Serene Luo
Organisations that spell out the digital media guidelines generally allow employees to say anything about their personal lives, but not about work. — PHOTO: REUTERS

WITH social media like Facebook, blogs and Twitter gaining popularity by the day, employers are ensuring they have specific guidelines on using them so employees do not violate existing codes of ethics or business rules.

Many government agencies and multinational companies interviewed said their digital media guidelines are now in employee handbooks, on the company intranet, or in refresher courses.

These may prevent incidents like the one in which a lawyer was fined $1,000 by the Law Society for giving his views on an ongoing case on his blog, which The Straits Times reported on Tuesday. The society has since warned lawyers not to post comments that could violate client confidentiality, discuss ongoing cases, or decry an opposing party – generally part of lawyers’ ethics code.

Organisations that spell out the rules generally allow employees to say anything about their personal lives, but not about work.

At computer manufacturer Dell, employees are reminded at yearly business practice updates that they cannot talk about upcoming products or slam competitors in any medium, a spokesman said.

The 110,000 workers in the civil service must get permission from the ministries’ permanent secretaries or corporate communications departments before talking about their work.

Professionals like doctors and accountants should adhere to the codes of ethics that govern their professions, such as maintaining patient or client confidentiality, whether or not they are spelt out in black and white, said hospitals and organisations interviewed.

Human capital partner Deborah Ong of PricewaterhouseCoopers said: ‘As long as staff commit to their deliverables, maintain client confidentiality and be mindful of what is being posted online, we are generally flexible on their Internet usage.’

Staff who break the rules are usually warned.

Blogger Ivan Chew, who is a manager at the National Library Board, said he tries to treat each blog post as an e-mail: ‘Once you put it out, there’s no taking it back.’ Asked what he would keep in mind when writing a post, he said: ‘If I’m writing because I’m angry, I’ll save it as a draft and revisit it when I’m more calm. There are better ways to resolve issues.’



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