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To tweet or not to tweet? Managing a delicate balance of interests in the workplace

Of all the social media platforms, Twitter has been getting plenty of attention in the media recently - and not always for the best reasons. Wayward tweets have landed people in court or even prison, not to mention destroying hard-earned reputations in a heartbeat. As a result, employers need to be increasingly clear to staff about what is and isn't acceptable to tweet both in and outside the workplace.

With the number of Twitter users in the UK reportedly doubling from 12 million to 26 million last year, many believe that legislation isn't keeping pace with developments in social media use. However, most users now understand that tweets aren't outside the reach of the law. Just to name a few, tweets are subject to defamation law, harassment law, the Fraud Act, the Communications Act (dealing with offensive, indecent, obscene or menacing material), data protection laws, copyright and trademark laws.

In the workplace, there are other risks too. Twitter can be a versatile way of promoting a brand, but it's not straightforward to control what employees are saying all the time. Neither do employers want to stifle the natural expression of their staff just to avoid a single misplaced comment.

Employers may need to make a judgement about where they draw the line between confidentiality or privacy and freedom of speech. If they plan to monitor social media activity, they should show proper justification for it and inform their staff. It's best to lay down clear boundaries so that employees know they may face disciplinary action if they post comments that injure the company's reputation or offend colleagues.

Acas offers detailed help on Social media in the workplace use in the workplace, including use of Twitter, with practical guidance on Social media and how to develop a policy. Acas also runs training courses on various aspects of managing and monitoring employee use of social networking sites.

Visit the Acas Training Courses, Workshops and Projects area for more information.

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