Blocking Facebook

From a Primary Care Trust, to an associate of mine:

Recent monitoring of internet usage by staff has shown that there has been an excessive use of social networking websites such as Facebook, MySpace and FriendsReunited, resulting in high bandwidth usage … Staff are reminded that internet access for personal purposes is only permitted during their break times

Leaving aside the sinister concept of “monitoring” internet usage, I think this sort of thing betrays a poor understanding of how people are using the Internet these days.  For many people, Facebook is now the communication tool of choice.  It has a straight-forward e-mail function, which many people seem to prefer to more traditional solutions like Hotmail or Outlook (or Mac OS X Mail).  But most of the other features on the site are messaging services of some form or another, for example on the ‘Wall’, or comments on pictures or status updates.  Just because they occur in semi-public, its not clear to me why this sort of personal communication is considered time-wasting, while simple vanilla e-mailing is still acceptable.  I bet that if they check the stats for Hotmail, Yahoo and GMail, the usage would also be very high.  Moreover, these sites are incorporating more and more social networking features too.  So it looks like this sort of prohibition is made rather inconsistently, a decision made by people who are behind the curve in their understanding of the online world.

There are wider points to make here too.  The first is about the way an organisation treats its staff:  Do you monitor and nanny their usage, or do you ask them to self-regulate in the hope that they will use it sensibly?

The second point is about the way in which people communicate these days.  Instead of writing letters or having long phone conversations, we interact more frequently, in smaller packets (journalism is changing because of this too).  Why should this be stifled?  Will it create a more efficient organisation, or, indeed, a happy one?

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