Social media has reached a level of pervasiveness that cannot be ignored – and corporations are paying very close attention.

Earlier this year, Goldman Sachs received flak for banning Facebook at work while investing $450 million in the company.  Perceived hypocrisy may have played a role, but acknowledging the chilling effect that corporate ‘social media policies’ have on free speech is another likely reason for the criticism.

Social Media Governance is one of the websites dedicated to archiving the policies of major corporations and organizations, ranging from those of Coca-Cola and Ford to the City of New York and the Smithsonian.  Some companies’ policies exclude access to certain websites (Goldman Sachs also prevented its employees from posting on DealBreaker, a popular blog about Wall Street happenings), while others make recommendations employee behavior online.

Policies include provisions preventing the disclosure of private company information. News agencies require employees to choose between disclosing their position at the company on social media accounts or refraining from discussing their work in any capacity, and recommend that their editorial staff remain “politically neutral” online.  On the whole, the policies tend to codify broadly understood best practices – be transparent, be respectful, and be aware that the internet is never really “anonymous.”

Some companies, however, take that a step further.  The Washington Post, for example, disallows employees from:

“writing, tweeting or posting anything—including photographs or video—that could be perceived as reflecting political, racial, sexist, religious or other bias or favoritism… This same caution should be used when joining, following or friending any person or organization online.”

Other corporations mandate certain standards for blogging and Twitter avatars; others preclude employees from discussing co-workers by name.  In each scenario, these policies blur what is already a very fine line between one’s professional and personal life.

There have been cases where behavior on social media has directly led to an employee’s termination – the question has already become how to balance one’s real life with the expectation of one’s employer.

(To this blogger, the answer looks a lot not hiring journalists who  praise terrorists in their tweets or politicians who curse at their fellows, but that’s just me expressing my views, which are in no way necessarily those of the National Coalition Against Censorship)