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Regulate or liberate?

Secretly many of us hanker after a world free of regulation where we can express ourselves freely and without the adverse judgement of autocracy. Whether social networking truly offers that opportunity is open to debate, but I’d suggest much of its success stems from that secret desire.

However along with that lack of regulation goes a loss of control. Once on the internet many million people have access to whatever we divulge and we have little chance of retrieving it. Those of us whose employees have access to the private affairs of others need to be particularly alert to those dangers.

Not just service users, but relatives and their representatives may claim if they suffer damage from revelations made without their permission. That much is, perhaps, obvious.

But photographs of service users who are out on their summer trip are also personal data. It is easy for an otherwise well meaning care worker to feel that such photographs can be widely distributed – maybe even directly from their smart phone.

Other risks include cyber-bullying, disclosures that could put service users in danger and inappropriate content that could attract adverse attention that then damages your home or service image.

None of this is to mention the amount of time that could be spent on the internet by employees who should be working for you in that time.

To tackle the threats a sound policy is the starting point. This needs to include guidance on avoiding each of the above risks and some “teeth” so you can take action under the disciplinary procedure if there are breaches. It is worth reminding employees that they are legally responsible for commentary that they personally place on-line.

Training is advisable to explain the policy and reinforce the crucial points. Participative training is ideal so as to allow some discussion of the type of eventualities that could arise. Training need not take long and could be one part of an away day or similar. By making time to have a training event and recording its occurrence you will go a long way to showing you have discharged your responsibilities as an employer.

Add the training to your induction processes and periodically remind employees at operational meetings, in a newsletter, or by initiating discussion of critical incidents.

Importantly, if you need to take disciplinary action then do so. Especially do so before any incident gets so serious that you might have to contemplate dismissal. There are few better ways of getting across the importance of vigilance than by pulling someone up short before matters go too far.

However, there is no need to be draconian. As a means of fostering camaraderie among staff, interest in life among service users and as an infinite source of information, social networking is one of the greatest opportunities of our time. You might even keep employees informed by setting up your own social networking site with employees in mind. Then you could Tweet items of interest to them regularly. Vive la liberté!