Social Media Policies: The Fads and the Far-Fetched

 

A bit of lighthearted entertainment to brighten a long shift in an underground mine in Western Australia saw the 15 men featured in this Harlem Shake video fired by Barminco, their employer. Barminco considered the stunt a safety violation, and the men lost their six-figure salaries accordingly (Clarke 2013). The case definitely wasn’t the first Internet fad that resulted in the axing of employees, and it wont be the last. Can you recall the planking phenomenon?

plank1

This guy was fired from Woolworths and many other perpetrators were on the road to joblessness after their employers caught wind of their planking behaviour on social media.

plank2

And as for these guys? Yep, also sacked.

Undoubtedly, balancing on story-high smoke stacks raises concerns for safety and is obvious grounds for dismissal, but what about when things are much less sinister? With tough workplace social media policies on the increase, a simple rant on Facebook about your place of work, or even voicing a broad opinion about the company itself, could see you packing up your desk and queuing up at the Centrelink office the following week.

Most large companies now have social media policies in place to ensure that their workers aren’t misbehaving online and causing damage to the company and it’s reputation. Fair enough, I say. But when do these policies go to far?

The Commonwealth Bank implemented a new social media policy in 2011, with terms so strict that breaches of its rules were inevitable. According to Finance Sector Union official Wendy Streets, conversation online about the colour of the teacups in the banks’ offices would actually constitute a breach of the policy as it was worded, and could be cause for employment termination (Hannan 2011). The policy also threatened employees with disciplinary action if they did not report any criticism they read about the company on social media channels. A little far fetched, perhaps?

As with workplace policies, social media policies have dual roles. Firstly, they provide guidance to employees so that their social media use doesn’t get them into trouble, and secondly, they provide a firm basis for employer disciplinary action. However, when social media policies are inhibiting freedom of expression, such as in the Commonwealth case, perhaps the companies need to head back to the policy drawing board, or even take a leaf or two out of CISCO’s well-executed social media policy.

Think before you type employees… You’re being watched.

watched

References:

Clarke, T 2013, ‘Miners’ underground Harlem Shake dance harmless, says lawyer’, Perth Now, 7 March, viewed 10 May, http://www.perthnow.com.au/news/miners-underground-harlem-shake-dance-harmless-says-lawyer/story-e6frg12l-1226592723513

1fastnigel, 2013, Underground Harlem Shake, YouTube video, viewed 10 May, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPSzE_smfug

Hannan, E 2011, ‘Bank’s Facebook sacking threat’, The Australian, 5 February.

The True Tools of the Arab Spring

The role of social media in the Arab Spring has been surrounded by amassed conversation over recent years. Is social media the backbone to the political uprising in the Middle East? Does the power lie in the brave activists themselves? Or perhaps social media isn’t where the revolt clearly begins, or ends? The majority of arguments surround similar cyber-utopian, cyber-realist, and conspiratorial views.

According to Morosov (2012), many accounts of the Arab Spring and the Internet’s contribution share a common theme – ‘Tweets were sent. Dictators were toppled. Internet = Democracy.’ Gracing these events as Twitter and Facebook “revolutions” just might not be the appropriate term, in fact, Wolfsfeld, Segev and Sheafer (2013) suggest that it is unlikely that social media played a major role in these times at all. They believe that the significant increase in the use of social media is much more likely to follow protest than to lead the protest itself. However, I’m not sure if I entirely agree.

There are many examples where social media is seen to give voice to the voiceless and coordinate movements which otherwise would not have developed into such fundamental proceedings. Sure, Facebook and Twitter alone do not have the ability to topple governments, but brave people with access to others do. Newsom and Legel’s article takes on a similar cyber-utopian approach, recognising online activism as empowering marginalised voices, providing opportunity for cross-boundary dialogue, and offering a drive for social change (Newsom & Lengel 2012, p.33).

Take 26-year-old Asmaa Mahfouz for example, an Arab woman who made a vlog calling on others to demand their human rights and disapprove the current political regime. This was undeniably a precarious move for any woman in an Arab nation. The video went viral on YouTube and social media, sparking mass protest in Cairo and making her a symbol of the Arab Spring.

Image

In Arab cultures, women’s voices are often silenced, so women like Mahfouz are increasingly harnessing the power of social media and taking to these platforms in order to be heard. Newsom and Lengel (2012) suggest that their voices resonate as very powerful in the online environment because of this.

With a global reach, no filter and no cost to participate, the power of social networks in these situations is undoubtedly clear. Twitter and Facebook can be effectively used to voice opinions and organise protest, while YouTube has the ability to capture, share and expose.

Social media are indisputably tools contributing to social change, however, behind the keyboards and screen names also lay brave activists and many scrupulous long-term efforts to engage with political institutions (Morosov 2012). Cohesively, these are ultimately the driving and essential elements behind the Arab Spring’s political revolutions.

References:

Morosov, E 2011, ‘Facebook and Twitter are just places revolutionaries go’, The Guardian, 8 March, viewed 11 October 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/mar/07/facebook-twitter-revolutionaries-cyber-utopians

Newsom, V & Lengel, L 2012, ‘Arab Women, Social Media, and the Arab Spring: Applying the framework of digital reflexivity to analyse gender and online activism’, Journal of International Women’s Studies, vol.13, no.9, pp.31-45, http://vc.bridgew.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1004&context=jiws

Wolfsfeld, G, Segev, E & Sheafer, T 2013, ‘Social Media and the Arab Spring: Politics Comes First’, The International Journal of Press/Politics, vol.18, no.2, pp.115-137, http://www.arifyildirim.com/ilt508/gadi.wolfsfeld.pdf

BYO Device or Everyone Will Suffer

The Internet is impacting on all aspects of people’s lives; how we communicate, how we learn, and how we access information is increasingly being transformed by the technologies provided to us (DCITA 2005). There exists little doubt that the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in education can effectively strengthen practices and engagement. Devices that were once banned in classrooms are now becoming an integral part of student learning.

Kevin Rudd had big plans for the use of ICT in schools in 2007. The ‘Digital Education Revolution’ program was announced, which would provide students from years 9-12 with laptops and continual funding to keep them ‘cutting edge’ (Taylor 2013). Instead, the nation saw a slow start to the scheme, followed closely by its axing in 2013 due to lack of funding. The uncertainty surrounding the plans for the campaign left school teachers unsettled and also concerned about equity issues that would arise if the cost of laptops was shifted to the parents (Wright 2013).

byod hands

This year, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies have begun rolling out in NSW secondary public schools. Public high schools students that missed out on the government laptops are now required to bring their own laptops or devices to school in order to aid learning skills and foster digital literacy (Smith 2014, DET 2013). Again, concerns arose about the digital divide that would be created between those families who could afford the technologies, and those that couldn’t and would suffer as a result (Smith 2014).

NSW Secondary Principal’s Council President, Lila Mularczyk, suggests that this equity isn’t an issue, as school communities have always helped families in need, and that this isn’t an exception (Smith 2014). There are also many other issues that come into play when considering BYOD programs in schools, such as distraction, privacy issues, security, storage and so on. I don’t believe that equity should be one of them.

With the prices of tablets reaching all time lows, devices can be purchased for under $150. Additionally, the costs of many traditional education requirements such as reading and writing materials are eliminated and school communities are generally willing to lend a helping hand to those in need. So why should everyone suffer?

In the digital age, it is essential that young people are skilled in the use of ICT. Being empowered technologically and participating in the knowledge-based economy from an early age will ensure effective use of ICT in all facets of life. These positives of ICT in education will far outweigh any modest inequalities that have been anticipated.

References:

Department of Communication Technology and the Arts (DCITA) 2005, The Role of ICT in Building Communities and Social Capital: A Discussion Paper, DCITA, Canberra, viewed 11 April, http://www.archive.dbcde.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/23737/The_Role_of_ICT_in_Building_Communities_and_Social_Capital.pdf

Department of Education (DET) 2013, Student Bring Your Own Device Policy, NSW Government: Education and Communities, viewed 11 April, https://www.det.nsw.edu.au/policies/technology/computers/mobile-device/PD20130458.shtml

Smith, A 2014, ‘It’s BYO laptop now as schools end free program’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 21 February, p.2.

Taylor, J 2013, ‘Australian government quietly ends laptops in schools program’, ZDNet, 21 May, viewed 11 April, http://www.zdnet.com/au/australian-government-quietly-ends-laptops-in-schools-program-7000015650/

Wright, J 2005, ‘Computer cash in lap of chaos’, The Sun-Herald, 3 February, p.11.

 

The Push-Pull Between Author and Reader

 

… not the opening you were expecting? Between the 16th and 19th centuries, this was how poets, novelists and essayists addressed their audiences (Dorner 1993). The writer had to ‘woo’ the reader from the very beginning and there was an expectation that once they began reading, they would remain faithful and loyal, staying with the reader from the beginning of the text until the very end.

My, oh my, how the author-text-reader relationship has changed. We now exist in a society of textual ‘users’. With masses of information digitally available to us on any one subject, we skim, we study, and we scan until we find something that is of use to us –a notion entirely relatable to me as a university student. Dorner (1993) says that the author has adapted and now greets its audience with a “Look, I know you haven’t got time to fall in love, so I’ll inject you with my ideas as quickly as I can”, and that instant gratification suits our generation of readers just perfectly.

The digital media environment has also created a new ‘use’ of texts, as the notion of interactivity becomes increasingly prominent. With the ease of cut and paste functions, audiences can now co-participate, re-sequence and interactively transform texts how they see fit.

Take music, for example. It was once composed and produced for the audience to listen; the writer wrote, and the audience listened. Simple. Nowadays, when a piece of music is produced, not only is it consumed, it’s expected to be re-mixed by other producers or covered by different artists, it’s played alongside video productions and it’s transformed into digital ring tones. Cover (2006) suggests that this audience interactivity with texts redefines and blurs the traditional author-text-reader relationship even further.

Intellectual property is problematised in the online environment and texts are now valued for their commodification, rather than for what they truly are. Ultimately, we can see how the digital arena has transformed the notion of authorship since the days of ‘Dear Reader’ with audience respect and loyalty.

References:

Cover, R 2006, ‘Audience inter/active: Interactive media, narrative control and reconceiving audience history’, New Media & Society, vol.8, no.1, pp.139-158.

Dorner, J 1993, ‘When readers become end-users: Intercourse without seduction’, Logos, vol.4, no.1, pp.6-11.

Cyborgs: A Fictional Reality

‘Chiba. Yeah. See, Molly’s been Chiba, too’. And she showed me her hands, fingers slightly spread. Her fingers were slender, tapered, very white against the polished burgundy nails. Ten blades snicked straight out from their recesses beneath her nails, each one a narrow, double edged scalpel in pale blue steel. – Gibson (1988)

What you’re reading is an excerpt from William Gibson’s (1988) ‘Johnny Mnemonic’, a piece of cyberpunk literature depicting a science fictional world. Here, each human body’s surface and organic structure has been technologically manipulated and enhanced, creating ‘cyborgs’ with unimaginable strength and supremacy. While Molly has retractable razor blades built into her hands, others have the teeth of a Doberman or sophisticated inbuilt information storage systems.

The ‘Johnny Mnemonic’ world seems as far fetched as science fiction comes, but when we look a little closer into the world around us, the technology is in fact already here and the cyborg is not so much of a fictional creation after all.

Tomas (2000) suggests that Gibson’s fictional world is slowly becoming a very real part of contemporary existence and says that given recent advances in information technology, genetic engineering and nano-technology, changes like these will soon encompass the human body and its sensorial architecture.

In our world of rapidly evolving technologies, the human body is increasingly open to technological enhancement. We’ve given super-human vision to the colour-blind, developed high-tech prosthetic limbs, inbuilt computer chips and information storage devices, developed a cybernetic piece of living tissue, and forged a bio-hacking phenomenon. We are now seeing the gradual merging of man and machine, which are creating capabilities that far exceed typical human functions.

So instead of viewing cyberpunk literature as radical science fiction, perhaps we should inspect these texts as theories of the future, giving us an insight into human evolution and determining which body alterations will provide the best competitive edge in a prospective cyborg world. If you could make one alteration to your wiring or physical structure to create your ultimate cyborg self, what would it be and why?

eye

References:

Gibson, W 1988, ‘Johnny Mnemonic’, Burning Chrome, Grafton, London, pp.14-36.

Smart, S 2010, Cyborg Eye, image, Bike Rdr, viewed 23 March, http://blog.bikeridr.com/2010/03/advantage-cyborgs/

Tomas, D 2000, ‘The Technophilic Body: On Technicity in William Gibson’s Cyborg Culture’, in Bell, D & Kennedy, B (eds.), The Cybercultures Reader, Routledge, London, pp.175-189.