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Technology has opened new worlds for all of us. It also has opened the proverbial can of worms, raising questions about personal privacy and how far it extends into the public conscience.
Officials in Bartholomew County government have taken an important step into this new world, developing a set of standards for all employees that spell out, among other things, acceptable and unacceptable behavior on social media sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter.
The new rules are included in revised handbooks that will be distributed to current and future employees of county government. They even extend to online postings on an employee’s own time away from work.
Some of the rules are obviously necessary, especially those governing behavior on the job. For instance, the handbook is explicit in noting that county-owned computers and the employees’ time on the job are reserved for work purposes. The latter has been applied to the use of personal cellphones for accessing social media sites, which is prohibited during work hours but up to the discretion of the employees on lunch breaks, for instance.
But the policy also crosses over into once-shadowy areas of personal behavior, warning that employees can be held accountable for some online postings, even those made on personal time.
The policy states that if employees do post complaints or criticism they should “avoid using statements, photographs, video or audio that reasonably could be viewed as malicious, obscene and threatening or intimidating, that disparages co-workers, county vendors or the public, or that might constitute harassment or bullying.”
The language simply validates standards that should apply to anyone who uses these social media sites or posts material on the Internet, whether they be of a public or private nature.
In a very real sense, government employees are representative not just of a particular branch of government but of the people they are supposed to serve.
There have been far too many instances in which people have used these social media sites for personal vendettas, acting on impulses of the basest nature and sometimes creating situations that end in the most tragic of manners.
When those individuals act in such a manner and work for a government, they should be held accountable.
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