STEUBENVILLE - A Cleveland-based workplace consultant warned the Jefferson County Safety Council Wednesday of the pitfalls of social networking, saying the community is seeing firsthand how quickly it can spin out of control.
Timothy Dimoff, president and CEO of SACS Consulting & Investigative Services Inc., said business owners need to "contain and control" social networking with "good policies, good education and an informed management team."
"If you don't put a control mechanism in place, you're in trouble," he said. "You also have to incorporate a procedure for how to respond to negative inputs or comments ... you have to have a policy in place."
SOCIAL NETWORKS DISCUSSED — Workplace consultant Timothy Dimoff told members of the Jefferson County Safety Council at Wednesday’s meeting they need to be proactive in developing a social networking policy and communicating it to their employees. The group meets monthly at the YWCA in Steubenville.
-- Linda Harris
A case in point, he said, is the firestorm of controversy that erupted in the wake of the alleged rape of a 16-year-old girl at an end-of-summer party in August, graphically referenced in a series of Twitter feeds, Facebook posts and a 12-minute video posted by other teens at the parties.
Two members of the Steubenville High School football team, Trent Mays of Bloomingdale and Ma'lik Richmond of Steubenville, both 16, have been charged with rape. Mays faces a second charge, illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material. Their attorneys have denied the charges in court.
The case drew international attention after online activists posted screen captures and videos that included ribald commentary and raised allegations of a cover-up, claiming local police and prosecutors are protecting Big Red student-athletes as well as children from prominent families even though county Prosecutor Jane Hanlin asked the office of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine to oversee the case soon after the victim's family reported the alleged attack. Two special prosecutors have been assigned to the case, and a visiting judge, Tom Lipps, will oversee the trial, which is scheduled to start Feb. 13.
Dimoff said the Steubenville community wasn't prepared for the firestorm of controversy the case triggered in the online world.
"You need to be prepared in the future, use it as a learning lesson," he said. "If someone starts posting negative (comments) online, be prepared to respond."
He said Twitter, Facebook and YouTube give social networkers access to an audience of millions, "but the majority of people have no idea the impact (what they say) can have, does have, when they put it out."
"A lot of the information that's come out on social networking sites is not factually true, not researched but (people think) if you read it online or do a Google search, it must be true," he said. "It can be really damaging."
He said it's also becoming a problem in the workplace, having an impact on corporate images as well as worker productivity. A recent study suggests users spend as much as 2.5 hours of their working day monitoring and updating their personal social networking sites, shopping online or visiting pornographic sites, he said.
"You really need to have a policy, communicate that policy to your employees and get them to buy in. If you don't clearly state what they can do and cannot do, it will become a runaway train."
Dimoff said well-meaning employees have exposed themselves and their companies to fines and criminal charges for inadvertently breaching client confidentiality and insider trading, and he pointed out freedom of speech laws "don't protect you if you defame anyone" via social networking.
"Technology is moving faster than the laws protecting companies and individuals from its improper use," he advised. "Create a policy. Discuss it with your employees and train supervisors to monitor what's going on."
He also said employers should recognize offensive postings will very quickly go virile, "and it will be painful."
"Be prepared to respond both in the media and also in the social networking world," he advised, adding that it's not necessary to update business blogs, tweets and Facebook sites every day. "You can do a couple things a month and be very much involved and be respected. Overloading (social networking content) does not work."
Safety council members meet monthly at the YWCA on North Fourth Street.
(Harris can be contacted at email@example.com.)