WOOF! Newsletter

July 28, 2014

3 Reasons to Limit Social Media Use in the Office

Facebook manipulates its users' emotions. It and other social media networks drain away employees' time. And malware is flooding in. What can we do to curb social media use in the office?
The recent revealing of Facebook "manipulating" users' emotions has the Web up in arms. While troublesome by itself, this is only the latest incident raising the question of social media’s safety in the workplace.

Social media can be a valuable tool for marketing and customer relationships…but is it worth continued use if it also disrupts day-to-day operations? Frequent social media use in the office can result in poor productivity, low job satisfaction, and even a higher risk of data theft!

To avoid this, we recommend all businesses take steps to limit employees’ social media use during work hours. Today’s WOOF will tell you 3 reasons for limiting social media use (because it goes well beyond a minor distraction). Also, you’ll find several methods of enforcing such limitations without hurting workflow.

Reason #1: Facebook Emotional Manipulations – Distracting and Depressing

The incident everyone's angry about is a 2012 "Emotional Contagion" experiment:
Facebook Manipulation Experiment Stirs Twitter Frenzy – Small Business Trends

Basically, Facebook altered the status of 689,000 users' news feeds to show either a positive or negative slant. Then they watched the overall tone of the users’ subsequent updates. Results? The users shown more negative updates showed negative responses, and vice versa. Facebook had demonstrated that it was possible for them to alter the emotional states of their users via Facebook’s own technology.

This sort of study may technically be legal; Facebook use IS voluntary. And it's not without precedent – sites like OKCupid and Google have done similar data experiments. Is it ethical though? Collecting data is one thing (and very common), but outright trying to manipulate people?

In terms of business use, this presents not only a risk to users’ privacy, but their work ethic as well. If employees are distracted by social media AND depressed by it, how much further would it damage their productivity?

Reason #2: Wasted Time/Productivity Loss – Tweeting Away the Workday

According to a 2013 Wasting Time Survey, 14% of employees "admit" wasting work time on social media. The #1 site for wasting time? Facebook.

According to Forbes, most employees waste less than 2 hours a day at work overall (68%). But even that much time wasted translates into millions of lost productivity hours each year.

If you put a dollar amount on wasted time due to social media…well, it’s ugly. A 2012 study estimated that social media use costs the U.S. economy $560 billion a year!

Believe it or not, it gets worse. Social media drains away $560 billion a year in productivity—and it's also an open channel for malware to sneak into your network.

Reason #3: Stop Malware Before it Sneaks In

Cybercriminals use social media to find and target users for exploiting (even unknowingly). Websense, an IT security product manufacturer, documents one targeting process in its infographic, "The 7 Stages of Advanced Threats: Understanding the Cyber Attack Kill Chain (PDF)".

In this process, cybercriminals locate a target on social media & send them a message with a phony link. The link downloads an exploit onto that user's computer, which the cybercriminal uses to infect their computer and steal data. If the user is at work, the data being stolen is YOUR business data.

A powerful example of the software used in data theft is called Zeus. Zeus sends out copies of itself via email (email addresses are often found via social media), and tries to steal data from every computer it can. Zeus even evolves in response to software blocks!

Another social media exploitation is Facebook scams. A few months ago the Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 disappearance was used as a lure for online advertising: Malaysia Airlines MH370 Used as a Lure in Facebook-Themed Scams

Mobile devices aren't safe either. Kaspersky Labs detected 104,427 new & modified malware programs targeting mobile devices in 2013.

What You Can Do to Limit Social Media Use in the Office

This isn’t meant to scare you. It's meant to educate – social media, like most communications technologies, presents both a benefit and a risk.

To minimize that risk in your business, you can take any of the actions we’ve listed below. These actions will help you limit social media use, protect against malware infestations and keep people on track.
  1. Make sure your Employee Handbook includes an up-to-date Acceptable Use Policy that provides recourse in the event that employees:
    • Share corporate information via social media without appropriate permission;
    • Download software which introduces malware or phishing attacks into the network;
    • Use social media when their job does not require it;
    • Waste too much time on social media during the workday.

  2. Employ a web content filter at the server level. For example, this Websense gateway selectively blocks social media access, except for those who need it to perform their job (e.g. MarComm): Websense Security Gateway Product Chart
    Gateways also reduce the amount of viruses & malware trying to break into your network. Small and mid-market businesses can look to Symantec and Barracuda for solutions, along with a host of others.

    (Warning: This solution can lead to employee backlash, but should be used in circumstances where network security is paramount, or your employees are not sophisticated users and you fear they will unknowingly compromise your network without such measures.)

  3. Institute policies & safeguards on BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). See our previous WOOF article for help: 10 Ways BYOD Threatens Network Security AND Your Private Data

  4. Hire people who understand the privacy risks of social media, and are professional enough to act accordingly!
Unsure of what to do about social media? PlanetMagpie is happy to advise you. We use LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter for communicating with our customers, but we don't use Facebook. By now, I'm sure you can see why!