Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Tweety Bombs

It should be abundantly clear that employers with routine access to the Internet (and that includes those of you reading this, otherwise you wouldn't be able to read this) should have some type of social media policy in place. A proper social media policy clarifies the allowable use of things like Facebook and Twitter, serves to manage expectations and set standards for the workforce about its behavior online, warns employees about posts that will get them or the company (or both) into trouble, especially with those friendly people at the Federal Trade Commission, and generally reminds people that the Internet is typically not the place to be sharing proprietary company information.

For most companies, these policies are directed at a relatively small portion of the workforce. Typically, employees don't have time to embarrass themselves on Facebook during the workday, and no inclination to do so, anyway. However, there is at least one workforce that seems to not only embrace foolishness online, but in fact revel in it. 

I'm talking about the professional athlete community. And if you think I'm kidding, see the posts from NFL receiver Bernard Berrian, for example.  Especially the one where he tells a double amputee, Iraq war vet to "sit down" and shut up with the criticism.  Oops (in fairness, Berrian didn't know the guy was disabled, but still).

With the announcement that the NHL has now put in place a social media policy, most of the major sports leagues (that is, if you consider the NHL a major sports league) have social media policies for the players that are noteworthy for their pickiness, and their enforcement.

For example, the NFL prohibits its players from using social media within 90 minutes of the start of a game, through the end of the postgame media interviews. Updates to a player's Twitter account by surrogates are also prohibited. Even as media tolerant as the NFL is, having players taunting each other via smart aleck tweets during a game, especially when the coaches are trying to get their attention, is simply too much. Players have been fined up to $25,000 for violating the time limit policy, and one running back was fined by his club for criticizing the team's catering choices.

Major league baseball prohibits the use of electronic communication devices on the bench, bullpen or field once batting practice starts before a game, and cell phone use in a clubhouse is prohibited 30 minutes before the game. Although content can get you in trouble, Chicago White Sox manger Ozzie Guillen was fined $20,000 with a two-game suspension for launching a post-ejection tweet tirade back in April not for his verbiage, but his timing.

Surprisingly, that repository of petty, silly rules, the NCAA, does not have a social media policy for players. It needs one, although the Association does prohibit all kinds of social media activity in the recruiting context. A number of schools have prohibited social media use by their athletes, and players have been suspended for criticizing their coaches, or making what are referred to as "insensitive" remarks on Twitter.

I would not hold these policies up as examples for the non-jock workforce sector, however. Most of these restrictions are done in the context of a collective-bargaining environment, and the NLRB continues to show particular interest in employers that limit their employees' expressiveness on social media. Just enjoy the fact that you don't have to worry about your average white-collar worker blasting out something about your workplace catering to more than 1 million followers on a day-to-day basis.

UPDATE:  True to form, the NCAA institutes a major change in its recruiting policy re athlete contact by coaches, allowing unlimited calls and texts to rising high school juniors, but still no social media policy for kids in college.  Too bad.

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