The Pros and Cons of Social Media in the Workplace, Part 1



By Daniel Dimov
InfoSec Institute

Employees using social networks such as Facebook and Google+ may not only waste a lot of their working time, but also spread viruses on their work computers. Due to this, some employers have implemented security systems designed to closely monitor or restrict, as needed, an employee’s access and use of social networks. The purpose of this blog is to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of restricting social media access for employees.

social media in workplace
Restricting social media access in the workplace has four main advantages but it also carries some disadvantages.

Advantages of restricting social media access for employees

The restriction of social media access for employees has four advantages; namely, it (1) increases employee productivity of, (2) decreases the risk of getting malicious software, (3) increases the availability of bandwidth, and (4) prevents identity theft. These four advantages are discussed below.

Increasing the productivity of employees

Surfing in social networks may waste a lot of an employee’s time. A Proskauer International Labor & Employment Group survey conducted in 2011 indicated that 43 percent of businesses using social media have dealt with employees’ misuse of social networks, and approximately a third of all businesses have taken disciplinary action against employees concerning this. It is also worth mentioning that, on the basis of an analysis of the web traffic of 1,636 companies, the firewall supplier Palo Alto found out that there was an increase in employees’ use of Facebook to run web apps and games. The wasted time spent there can be otherwise used for completing tasks assigned by the employer or for educational purposes. This is why implementing security systems that restrict access to social media may improve the productivity of the employees.

It should be noted, however, that a study conducted at the University of Melbourne found out that employees with access to social networks were actually more productive than employees in companies that block access. Dr. Brent Coker, a researcher involved in the study, noted that employees who can reward themselves between the completion of one task and the start of another with a visit to their Facebook or MySpace page are more motivated than the workers who do not use social networks. The study found out that workers using social networks get 9 percent more accomplished than their blocked counterparts. Consequently, it is doubtful whether the restriction of social networks should be considered as an advantage.

It is important to note that the study of Dr. Coker should not be interpreted as stating that the use of social networks cannot decrease the productivity of the employees. Social networks may increase productivity only if they are used moderately. As Dr. Coker said, “Short and unobtrusive breaks, such as a quick surf of the internet, enables the mind to rest itself, leading to a higher total net concentration for a days’ work, and as a result, increased productivity.”

Decreasing the risk of malicious software

Often, social networks are a place where users can easily exchange files, some of which may contain viruses. In this regard, it should be noted that, after analyzing the web traffic of 5,500 PC users in 20 nations, firewall maker Barracuda Networks discovered that one of every 60 Facebook posts and one of every 100 Twitter tweets contained malicious code. The press regularly publishes reports noting the appearance of new types of Facebook viruses.

For example, a new computer virus labeled Steckt.Evl has been recently discovered by Trend Micro. This virus spreads via the chat window on Facebook. In particular, a message from a friend appears in the pop-up window that is used for person-to-person chat. The message contains a link to an innocent-looking website. If the victim installs the virus on his computer, it instantly disables and removes the existing anti-virus software. Then, it spreads itself by opening chat windows on the Facebook friends of the infected user. (For additional information on malware, check out the ceh training course offered by InfoSec institute, an IT security training company.)

Increasing the availability of bandwidth

Social media may generate a lot of internal traffic. This is because the use of social media websites is often accompanied by the use of video sharing websites, such as YouTube. In this connection, Patrick Wood, senior director of product management for Exinda, a provider of WAN optimization and application acceleration products based in the US, stated that, “While it varies from organization to organization, we have seen instances where as much as 60 percent or more of network resources are being consumed with things like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.”

Preventing identity theft

Social networks can be used by criminals to steal identities. For instance, photo- and video-sharing websites like Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube may provide a lot of information about their users. Moreover, such social networks may contain information about the family and the friends of the users.

The next section of this article will discuss the disadvantages of social media in the workplace and draw a conclusion on the subject.

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