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Published on July 31st, 2007 | by Simon Wakeman


It’s about people not the technology

I’ve seen a fair amount of commentary recently about social networking sites, in particular Facebook, being banned from many workplaces. This article from the Telegraph is fairly typical of the coverage I’ve seen, and the BBC has a longer commentary piece on the issue here.

I am experiencing a mild feeling of deja-vu here. It’s just under ten years since I left university and landed my first job as a graduate marketing trainee at Boots. At that stage email and internet access were just becoming common at work – and I remember a fair amount of controls being implemented for what sites we could visit.

The motivation for these seemed to be an underlying assumption that visiting websites was a non-productive activity and could only be relevant to work in the minority of cases.

Thinking about that now makes that assumption seem ridiculous. The internet is an integral part of most working days now and is accepted as such in most organisations. I can’t help thinking that in a few years time we’ll look back on social networking site bans and see them in the same way as I view the internet controls back at Boots.

Posts on this topic have generated some interesting debate on the blogs of Neville Hobson and Shel Holtz.

But what’s really interesting me is that with access to technology tools at work, it’s not usually the technology that is “bad”, “subversive”, “time-wasting” (substitute your complaint of choice) – it’s the people.

Facebook doesn’t waste time, some people waste their time at home or work using it. Tackling the tool is missing the point – it’s the people and the culture that allows them to feel able to waste time that need addressing.

Closer to home I spotted this story about a university librarian being bullied via Facebook. Now I’m not condoning what the librarian experienced and I have a lot of sympathy for him – a group of students set up a Facebook group that was used to trade insulting and threatening messages about him on the web.

But the point again is that these bullies would probably have acted in the same way had Facebook not existed – it’s just the sniggering, innuendo and threats would have taken place in a different context.

Technology makes banning access to selected websites very simple. However if organisations are serious about addressing the issue then they need to think more about the root causes of the problem and how they can be addressed culturally, rather than opting for the technology quick fix.

[tags]facebook, bbc, telegraph, neville+hobson, shel+holtz, bullying, policies, HR[/tags]

This article originally appeared on Simon Wakeman’s communications, marketing and public relations blog at

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I write on my blog about all kinds of things. Mostly it's focussed on communications, marketing and digital stuff - as that's what I spend my days doing and evenings thinking about. But sometimes I'll cover running, mountain biking, road biking or geeky gadgets too.

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    Simon WakemanSimon is Agency Director at digital agency Deeson and writes for the agency blog on all things digital.

    He’s a CIPR and CIM qualified digital, communications and marketing professional with experience working across the full communications mix in the public and private sectors.

    Outside work he enjoys running, road cycling, mountain biking, caravanning and generally being outdoors. Simon is married with two children, has two energetic dogs and lives near Canterbury, Kent.

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