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David Lee King

Topeka, KS doesn’t like Social Media



screenshot of City of Topeka website

Topeka uses social media, right?

Wouldn’t it be weird if Google, KS blocked Google from their own computers?

Unfortunately, that just happened.

OK – it’s really Topeka, KS (Topeka renamed the city for that Google Fiber project). And they didn’t really block Google – they blocked Youtube (which Google owns).

But still – there’s some irony there, is there not?

Go read this newspaper article, City tightens control of employee Internet use. Then come back here, and let’s discuss.

Here’s what I find odd about the city’s recent decision to block staff access to social media sites:

Oddity #1:
“City spokesman David Bevens said the city prohibits employees from using their work computers to access YouTube, as well as the Facebook and Twitter social media sites, but some employees have nevertheless accessed YouTube on those computers … “

That’s got nothing to do with social media, and everything to do with employee performance. That’s sorta like saying “obesity has become a health issue at our organization, so we blocked employee lunches.” In other words, the city is dealing with the symptom, rather than with the real problem – in this case, employee performance. Blocking Youtube won’t fix that problem, I’m afraid.

Oddity #2:
“Stanley [interim city manager] said he was disappointed to learn the problem was directly related to the perceived need by some employees to access popular social media websites, such as YouTube and Facebook.”

It’s more than a “perceived need” – the city actually has official Youtube, Twitter, Flickr, and Facebook accounts. So yeah – “some staff” definitely DO need access to those sites, to do actual work.

And since those social media sites are essentially official city channels, I’d go so far as to say all city employees need access to them. At work. Otherwise, the city is blocking official city communications … from city employees. Nicely done, Google, KS!

Oddity #3:
IT manager Mark Biswell is quoted as saying this: “While these websites have value in terms of information transfer and marketing, they also pose an organizational risk in terms of lost productivity and through the potential introduction of viruses and worms … “

First off, let’s deal with that perceived “lost productivity” thing. Recent studies actually show that employees have increased productivity if they have access to social media. Want more productive employees? Give em access to Facebook and Youtube.

Second, that virus and worms thing. Social media sites like Facebook and Youtube don’t become popular if they’re sending out tons of viruses – instead, they get sued (thanks for that thought, @billludwig!). I sincerely hope that most IT managers know that “viruses and worms” generally don’t come from social media sites like Youtube or Facebook. They come from spoofed sites, rogue links in forwarded emails … and from uneducated staff. A better way to approach computer security would be to 1. unblock Facebook and Youtube, and 2. Train staff on appropriate use of web technology, and how to NOT click on those weird links or ads.

Oddity #4:
One last thing. The IT manager is also quoted as saying this: “Biswell said that to balance risks with the informational value of using such sites, the city was taking a proactive approach by cataloguing and safely providing employees access to YouTube videos that have business value related to training and education … The approach is the same one used by educational institutions, he said.”

That’s because the people at “educational institutions” are, for the most part, kids. Don’t treat your adult employees like kids. ‘Nuff said.

So why write this?
Thankfully, I don’t work at a city library, so I haven’t had to deal with this. But some of you librarians have dealt with this, head on. Library Directors – don’t let this happen to you! At least be informed, so you can intelligently argue your points to city administrators, city IT managers, or a city attorney. I’d love to hear from some libraries who successfully argued their points, and were able to keep or get library access to social media sites.

In other news, on Friday I tweeted a question to the City via their official Twitter channel, asking them how they were going to respond to my question, since they are now blocked from using Twitter.

Still no Twitter reply. I wonder why?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Jen Waller

    I hate when the technology gets blamed instead of behavior. My analogy has always been, “Do you block employees from using the telephone? ‘Cause you know…people can spend their work day talking on the phone to a friend.” Do they block access to the water cooler too?

    As you’ve pointed out, there’s so much good (and necessary) information and communication happening on social networks. It’s a shame some employers don’t realize this.

  • http://michaelkpate.com Michael K Pate

    “the city prohibits employees from using their work computers to access YouTube” – so how exactly were they “taking a proactive approach by cataloguing and safely providing employees access to YouTube videos that have business value related to training and education?” Because it would seem that cataloguing the videos would require someone accessing YouTube.

  • http://www.davidleeking.com davidleeking

    Yep – sorta funny! It’s obvious they are lacking in social media experience, I think!

  • http://www.careercollegelibrary.wordpress.com ConsiderJennifer

    Hehe – while I don’t work at a city library I have had experience with this.  Our institution recently made a bigger play into the social media world and yet blocked much of the access individuals need to see our own school’s social media presence.  Many of the points brought up to counter where what you mention here David.  Great post, thanks for sharing.  Hopefully it will become more workable in the near future.

  • http://twitter.com/jastirn Jason Stirnaman

    The other end of the spectrum – tapping your employees’ sharing enthusiasm: http://www.healthcarecommunication.com/Main/Articles/7028.aspx