Inside your own company or organisation there lurk communities with common interests. Some wholesome, some less so.
There is more than one Internet and Intranet based chess club using Internet facilities inside companies. In fact the numbers of interest groups, little virtual communities, inside companies is substantial. Some are difficult to see.
Some of them operate inside and, additionally, outside the organisation. The extent to which they exists and the way they are dealt with by companies emerges into the light of day from time to time and frequently not for the best of reasons. Three staff at a bank were sacked after being caught by the service provider Mercury Communications circulating pornography. The circulation was internal, to other banks and City trading houses. Two ICL employees were sacked for using office facilities for viewing pornography.
Phil Virgo from the Institute for the Management of Information systems said in Computer Weekly in 1997 “IT managers, as well as local general managers with service providers, face jail if their networks are used to put illegal material over the .net. …”
“It was important,” he is reported saying, “for IT managers to take reasonable precautions so in the event of a problem they could say they had tried to prevent misuse of their system…”
Of course this is an unreasonable request. As companies and the global culture of the world becomes Internet based, the mass of information on increasingly bigger systems and ever more optimised bandwidth makes the content of a network invisible
to the network manager. In the USA there are five billion commercial e-mails per day. The key for managing these communities is within the corporate culture. Managers have to make clear what behaviours are not acceptable and those that can be damaging to company, colleagues and future prospects as part of their e-strategy.
Mark Trudinger, writing in the may 1999 edition of Corporate Continuity, suggests that an employee who visits illegal or offensive sites may be committing a criminal offence. And if a colleague sees the site and is offended the organisation could be held liable for not taking steps to prevent such material being on display.
This of course may be true if there is intent behind the actions. However, the open and unregulated nature of the Internet makes such incidents possible for good business reasons. Beyond the small issue of pornography, it is worth looking at the subject in broader terms.
For a variety of reasons this can be 'offensive' to work colleagues. For example the material may be information about a competitors’ secret processes. Or it may be an internal company secret on an external site. The permutations are much wider than most would guess.
The extent to which such information is legitimately offensive to the corporate entity, can be open to interpretation. The response of companies and countries (France and Germany are both trying) is to lock out information and knowledge. It will fail because the information is out there and available one way or another. The issues for companies and countries is in the broader ethical arguments and practices.
This does not absolve the company.
Falling in the realm of corporate affairs, the company must have a reputation (and ethics) policy and the means to identify and manage its infringement. Porosity, now a feature of corporate life, will dictate the need to implement such actions.
The one thing a company cannot do is lock out the Internet. At best it can lock out a few hundred sites. Of many millions, this is not much good. ISP’s and Crawlers, also try to lock out some sites for (primarily) commercial, moral or ethical reasons.
However, the interests of an ISP may, and often will be, at odds with the corporate philosophy.
There are precedents for ethical use and by using the approaches already developed in other spheres of interest, the means by which corporations can develop their own response is at hand. An example used in education is published by Jay P. Sivin and
Ellen R. Bialo in the USA25. Some of the ethical issues raised include: A student uses a search engine and the World Wide Web to cut-and-paste together a pastiche of other people's words to create a research paper she submits under her own name. Is this
research, plagiarism or straight cheating?. A schoolteacher starts a computer bulletin board system and a student posts a credit card number, thinking of his actions as a prank. The legal system regards the school as a publisher and holds it liable. Issues of
ethical actions are important to reputation when we are involved in on-line communications and this stretches beyond the realm of internal virtual communities.
Internal staff communities can be good, helpful and healthy. The creative manager, will develop strategies to encourage such use and to discourage the worse side of human nature.Communities can be great fun and a boon to the virtual presence of the company.