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Shami Chakrabarti: HR must find a sensible social media policy

Employers must find an effective balance when it comes to social media policy, the Labour MP and former director of advocacy group Liberty Shami Chakrabarti has urged

Speaking on day two of the 2018 CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition, Chakrabarti said: “The kind of material that people are putting out about themselves online can be hugely compromising, particularly for young people; [that's] the experimental generation who I really feel have gotten the rough end of the stick."

She said that HR has to ask itself complex questions about boundaries when checking an employee’s use of social media.

“To what extent is it sensible, ethical, or a good use of time to trawl around this digital footprint in relation to applicants for a job? It’s bound to happen but what is the proportionate approach? And how do you proceed with it?”

Chakrabarti said that while there are no obvious answers to these questions, employers must act quickly to avoid escalating problems within an organisation. “I really don’t think there are very set obvious answers, and the process for coming up with these policies should be a process of shared and open discussion, because I don’t think that a top-down approach to these ethics and cultures will work," she mused.

“But equally, if we’re just playing catch-up after a crisis then that’s not going to be helpful in the long term and won’t stand up in tribunals.”

The use of social media and instant messaging platforms carries potential risks around employee data and privacy, she added.

“I also think there is a potential problem with using these platforms as a management tool as you don't get eye-to-eye or face-to-face contact. So if someone says something that could hurt someone’s feelings they can't notice the wince, and immediately say sorry and that it was not intended,” she said.

“I think it’s potentially bad for confidentiality and privacy if someone is disciplining a colleague via a WhatsApp group for staff. There are so many risks to working and managing this way, and to acting first and thinking later. These are things that have to be thought about, and if not by you then who?”

It’s important that people are encouraged to take personal responsibility for their social media use, Chakrabarti added.

“I hope this is a transitional moment in culture, and we’ll get to a place that is more forgiving and more gentle. But goodness me we’re not there yet. So our advice to our children, and our colleagues, rather than to snoop on them, should be to self-censor a little, and to do so as an act of self-care."