Last month, a story appeared in many of Sun Media's newspapers regarding the decision by several federal government departments to prohibit the use of Facebook in the office. While this story fell under the radar for the most part, a similar issue has just surfaced and it appears that the discussion is now taking centre stage.
Today's Toronto Star examines the Government of Ontario's decision earlier this week to ban Facebook from all government computers. That would include all members of the Ontario public service, and members of the legislative assembly as well.
When looking at the issue from both sides, it is clear that each side has valid arguments. The government does run on taxpayer dollars, and the expectation is and always should be that the public service is effectively serving the public during business hours.
Alternatively, Facebook is a completely different entity in that it attracts a younger demographic which could be beneficial for various government programs that reach out to that age group. A lack of access hinders the ability of government departments to use the social networking site to promote its programs. In addition, it is evident that younger Canadians are not deeply involved with politics or political issues. Sites like Facebook could be a potential driver to draw interest and awareness to issues and programs alike. Further, politicians who use Facebook to reach out to the youngest of their constituents should not be hindered, they should be applauded.
The Star article also mentions how MySpace, one of Facebook's rivals in the social media space, is still accessible to government staff. This surprises me as MySpace, and its allowance for users to design their own page, seems to "push the envelope" further with respect to appropriateness than Facebook. Moreover, it should be an "all or nothing" approach when it comes to access.
To me, the underlying factor here is trust. We are all hired to do our jobs based on the skills we have. If Facebook use during the day is becoming an issue, it should be addressed with the individual user/abuser rather than blanket the entire public service who may be using it for valid work related purposes. But it seems there are more questions than answers at this point. For example, when is Facebook being used by government employees? If it is primarily during lunch breaks, and for valid government work, I can't see what the problem is.
To me, I wonder if Facebook is to the new generation what the office telephone was to a previous one. Specifically, it was expected that personal calls would be kept to a minimum, sometimes even with a code of conduct to enforce it. That sort of approach might be the best one in the digital age. Perhaps employers need to set clear boundaries rather than ban sites outright. And at the same time, it's important that employees (in all sectors) use good judgment in how they spend their time online at the office.