Firms forbid Facebook, foil frivolity

A growing number of workplaces in Manitoba are blocking their employees from "writing on walls" and "poking their friends" — but they're not cracking down on vandalism or violence. They're cutting off access to Facebook.

A growing number ofworkplaces inManitoba are blocking their employees from "writing on walls" and "poking their friends" — but they're not cracking down on vandalismor violence. They're cutting off access to Facebook.

Facebook has attracted tens of millions of users worldwide to its website, which allows members to share profiles, photographs, interests and comments with fellow users.

But Manitoba's business community is becoming more aware of the potential problems such social networking sites could cause in the workplace, says David Reid, CEO of Epic Information Solutions, a Winnipeg company that helps business owners block websites from their networks.

"It's a growing concern. It's been a concern ever since the Internet became part of business use," Reid says.

"Are people going to be using the Internet like they use a water cooler? And maybe even more so, because they can do it at their desk in an individual kind of manner."

Clients have also raised concerns about social networking sites creating problems with spam, viruses and leaks of confidential information, Reid said.

"It's not just an issue around waste of personal time, but it's also security issues," he said.

At Manitoba's Heart and Stroke Foundation, employees trying to access the site are greeted with a message informing them the web page is "in violation of your Internet usage policy."

The foundation blocked access to the popular social networking site a few months ago.

"Sites here are blocked if they interfere with employee productivity," says Gabrielle Lewadniuk, one of the foundation's directors.

"Typically when people log on to them, they spend quite a bit of time on these types of sites, so it's just a time eater."

However, Lewadniuk admits she has checked out the site after-hours.

She even sees ways it could be a useful tool to help the foundation reach potential donors — but for the time being, she maintains, the site will be off-limits at work.

The Ontario government barred its employees from accessing the website from their workplace terminals in May.

The site is also banned in most federal departments in Ottawa.