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Past Events

The Social Media Workshop held on Friday 8 March 2015 was a big success. Papers were given by Jacinta Buchbach; Alison Barnes and Nikola Balnave; Paula McDonald and Paul Thompson; Louise Thornthwaite; Peter Holland, Cooper and Hecker. Papers were followed by lively discussion.

  • Jacinta Buchbach from Queensland University of Technology spoke on: The Regulation of social media and work: Balancing employer legitimate interests against employee autonomy.


The use of social media is blurring boundaries between work and home and between public and private in ways that are still not well understood by the law. Existing legal frameworks, based predominantly on offline conceptions of private and public domains, are unable to adequately balance the interests of employers in managing their risk and reputation against the legitimate interests of employee autonomy. Users carefully manage their personal and professional identities online and offline by exercising some degree of choice in segmenting or integrating audiences in an effort to avoid blurring of these domains. Whilst much of the rhetoric around the management of identity in social media revolves around autonomous choice in sharing practices and the affordances and process of platforms, socially engaged employees have little control over the way they manage their personal and professional boundaries. In fact, the social media policies adopted by some organisations actively deprive users of autonomy in how they manage these domains. In mitigating for risk, employers will often have an incentive to over-reach their legitimate areas of control by dictating standards of online behaviour that unduly restrict the ability of users to manage their various online identities and audiences. This framing suggests an important shift in the legal regulation of employee behaviour and the extent to which social media policies should be able to collapse these boundaries. In order to promote autonomy, the law needs to be critical of these policies and the threats they pose to personal communication. My research suggests a new conceptual framework to better evaluate employer risk and employee interests in online social contexts. By conducting a legal analysis of social media policies through the theoretical lens of boundary theory, I argue that restrictive policies impede an employee's ability to manage their identities by collapsing boundaries which facilitate further blurring of domains. These insights give rise to legal concerns about the enforceability of restrictive policies that tend to regulate employee use of the communication platform, rather than employee behaviour situated within the context of work.

  • Paula McDonald (Queensland University of Technology) and Paul Thompson (University of Strathclyde) presented on: Employer and Employee Uses of Social Media at Work: A New Contested Terrain?


There has been a recent surge of interest in the media and elsewhere of tensions surrounding social media in employment. The main focus of academic enquiry in relation to such tensions has been in the law literature, with a relative paucity of research of what it might mean at the workplace and for employment relations. However, a small and emerging body of work suggests that the architecture of social media disrupts traditional workplace relations and reshapes the boundaries between public and private spheres and temporal boundaries (Sprague 2011; Hurrell et al 2013; Thornthwaite 2013). While legal proscriptions guiding contestation around social media in employment are relative rare, there is early evidence to suggest that employers are increasingly attempting to profile employees and institutionalise social boundaries through the formal codification, and subsequent monitoring and enforcement, of professional conduct. However, knowledge of the pervasiveness and nature of these expanding notions of professionalism in different workplace contexts is under-developed. This article firstly reviews the available literature addressing social media and employment, outlining three primary sources of contestation: profiling, disparaging posts and blogs, and private use of social media during work time. In each area, the key areas of contestation and the underlying concerns of the central actors involved are identified. Findings from a survey derived from 2,000 working-age adults in Australia and the UK provide further evidence for firstly, the characteristics of organisations and workplaces which have developed social media policies, and second, the extent and nature of strategies used by employers/managers to monitor and enforce expectations. These strategies include the surveillance of employees' online activities and private time, disciplinary responses to negative online comments, and the adoption of profiling for recruitment purposes. More broadly, the findings point to wider moves by employers to codify and subsequently impose expanded spheres of behavioural regulation associated with online conduct. Such expansions, underpinned by unequal power resources and the privileging of corporate interests, are likely to further legitimate managerial activism in the private sphere.

Associate Professor Louise Thornthwaite presentation on Social Media

Thornthwaite,L. (2014) Presentation on Social Media, Unfair Dismissal Cases and the Law at Work, Fair Work Commission Professional Development Seminar Series, June.

Social Media Symposium

Thornthwaite, A., Barnes, A. and Balnave, N. (2014) The Implications of Social Media for work and employment relations: Special Symposium, AIRAANZ Conference, 10.30-12.30pm Novotel Melbourne on Collins, 6 February.