Reminder to Social Media Users

NS attorney:  Nothing is ‘private’ on social media


Privacy does not exist on social media platforms, Joe Carpenter, a Norfolk Southern attorney, told employees attending recent presentations in Norfolk and Atlanta on “Being Smart with Social Media.” Sponsored by NS’ ethics and compliance group, the lunch-and-learn sessions focused on corporate guidelines for using social media.


“My No. 1 message to you is nothing is private,” said Carpenter, general solicitor and information governance counsel. “If you have any doubt about it, don’t put it out there.”


Platforms such as Facebook have privacy settings that allow users to dictate what information can be publicly disseminated, but the settings change frequently. That leaves many users unaware that previously restricted information had become available to anyone browsing the site, he said. “The world of social media changes as quickly as technology,” Carpenter said. “We get a lot of benefits from technology but there’s also the potential for harm.”


Norfolk Southern began exploring the use of social media in 2007, and Carpenter played a leading role in helping to shape the company’s current social media policy. The company now maintains a growing presence on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Flickr. Social media provides the company and employees additional options to communicate with internal and external audiences, but Carpenter stressed the need to exercise restraint when expressing ideas and opinions.


“Common sense is your friend,” he said. “Make sure you use it.”


While NS does not restrict employees from identifying their association with the railroad on social media, Carpenter said doing so can lead to unfavorable consequences. “When you comment on someone else’s post, you’re identified as an NS employee,” he added. “You can’t control your audience and what they do with the information you post. You can only control yourself and what you put out there, so choose your words carefully.”


Obviously, that includes refraining from posting confidential or proprietary information about NS, its employees, customers, or vendors. “If you have read about it in a newspaper or seen it on the company website, you can post it on your page,” Carpenter said. “If you can’t provide a link to it, you should really question whether you should share that information.”


Only a limited number of NS employees are authorized to speak on behalf of the company, he added. Employees who maintain blogs, websites, or other social media posts should make it clear that they are presenting their personal opinions and not representing the company.”


NS allows incidental personal use of work computers and other company devices but strictly prohibits employees from engaging in online communications involving inappropriate, offensive, or obscene material. “It’s very convenient to use your company email for personal reasons,” Carpenter said. “But when you use company email, it’s implying that you’re speaking as a company employee. Don’t use your company email account and imply that NS is behind what you are saying.” Employees also are restricted from posting video, audio, or pictures related to NS while on company time.


NS can monitor or seize company-issued computing and communications equipment, Carpenter noted. “Is the information you have on your computer or company phone something you want people to see? Is it appropriate? These are things to think about when using company devices,” Carpenter said. “Assume somebody, somewhere, someday will see it.”


Since Internet users leave an electronic record of their web site visits, their activities potentially can be viewed by millions, including their NS colleagues. “If you’re lying about your whereabouts, social media can provide the evidence,” Carpenter noted.


Adding that everyone needs to employ a personal filter when using social media, Carpenter said the bottom line revolves around behavior.


“As long as we act appropriately,” he said, “the concept that someone can record us is not necessarily bothersome.”