Blog and Personal Webpage Guidelines

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Most people consider the internet to be an asset – it is a relatively easy source of information, a great means of communication, and, for many, a good source of entertainment and relaxation. However, it also has the possibility of harm by potentially providing predators with access to children.

YMCAs have long been addressing the best ways to monitor children’s usage of the web – how to give them access to its beneficial aspects without exposing them to its dangers.

However, there is another source of possible harm, unintentional though it may be. Comments posted to a blog (whose blog is immaterial) may give information that allows access to kids, may cast aspersions on the YMCA, another person or entity, or may reveal confidential, private matters. Although individuals have the right to express themselves as they deem fit, they are legally responsible for such actions. Many of your young staff probably have or write to blogs…most are probably unaware of the extent of their liability.

It is prudent for a YMCA to inform them of that responsibility. Following is a sample policy.

Our YMCA believes in fostering a thriving online community and acknowledges blogging as a valuable component of shared media. The YMCA Personal Blog Guidelines have been developed for employees who maintain personal blogs that may contain postings about YMCA’s business, programs, fellow YMCA employees and the work they do, and content that violates the YMCA code of conduct. The guidelines outline the legal implications of blogging about our YMCA.

Those of you who blog should be aware that all the information you publish on a blog or public website (including personal pages on sites such as MySpace, Friendster, and to a degree Face-book) is public accessible. Posting information on these pages is conceptually similar to sending a letter to the editor in a newspaper; once published it is openly accessible (an editor can modify or not post your letter, however). You are advised to be mindful that the information you post on the internet will likely be seen by members of the YMCA community and could reflect poorly on your character. As an organization that holds personal character in the highest regard, the YMCA is obligated to take actions to preserve its core values. As such, the YMCA may terminate staff members for publishing public web pages and blogs that are contrary to the YMCA’s mission or are detrimental to its community.

LEGAL PARAMETERS – your non-disclosure obligations and legal responsibilities are listed in the following four paragraphs. Failure to abide by these guidelines can result in serious ramifications; discipline, perhaps termination of your employment at the YMCA, may be one of them.

  1. Legal Liability – When you choose to go public with your opinions via a blog, you are legally responsible for your commentary. Individual bloggers can be held personally liable for any commentary deemed to be defamatory, obscene, proprietary, or libelous (whether pertaining to the YMCA, individuals, or any other entity). For these reasons, bloggers should exercise caution with regards to exaggeration, colorful language, guesswork, obscenity, copyrighted materials, legal conclusions, and derogatory remarks or characterizations. In essence, you blog (or post on the blogs of others) at your own risk. Outside parties can pursue legal action against you for postings.
  2. YMCA Privileged Information – Any confidential, proprietary, or trade secret information is obviously off-limits for your blog. The YMCA logo and trademarks are off-limits per our YMCA and Y-USA’s brand guidelines. Anything related to YMCA members, programs, policy, strategy, financials, products, etc. that has not been made public cannot appear in your blog under any circumstances. Disclosing confidential or proprietary information can negatively impact our YMCA and may result in regulatory violations for the YMCA.
  3. YMCA Code of Conduct – All of our employees are required to sign the YMCA Code of Conduct. Blogs that violate the YMCA Code of Conduct will result in disciplinary action potentially including suspension and termination of employment.
  4. Press Inquiries – Blog postings may generate media coverage. If a member of the media contacts you about a YMCA-related blog posting or requests YMCA information of any kind, contact [Insert appropriate name, e-mail, and phone number]. You should also contact your Human Resources manager for clarification on whether specific information has been publicly disclosed before you blog about it.

BEST PRACTICE GUIDELINES – A roadmap for constructive, respectful, and productive dialogue is suggested in the recommendations that follow. We consider these to be “best practices guidelines” that are in the spirit of the YMCA culture and the best interest of our YMCA and its employees, whether they blog or not.

  1. Be Respectful of Your Colleagues – Be thoughtful and accurate in what you post; be respectful of how others may be affected. All YMCA employees can be viewed (correctly or incorrectly) as representative of the YMCA, which can add significance to your public reflections on the organization (whether or not that is your intent). If you identify yourself as a YMCA employee in your blogs and you comment on the YMCA, then it would be wise to notify your supervisor – not for permission, but just to inform him/her that you have a blog where you may write about the YMCA. Whether or not your supervisor chooses to occasionally read your blog, the courtesy of your alert will always be appreciated.
  2. Get Your Facts Straight – As a YMCA employee with internet/intranet access, you have the opportunity to contact employees who are responsible for the programs, services, or other initiatives about which you may wish to write. To ensure you are not misrepresenting your fellow employees or their work, consider contacting a member of the relevant team before posting your blog. If there is someone at YMCA who knows more about the topic than you, consult with them to verify that your understandings are accurate.
  3. Provide Context to Your Argument – Please be sure to provide enough support in your posting to help others understand your reasoning, whether it be positive or negative. We appreciate the value of multiple perspectives, so help us to understand yours by providing context to your opinion. Whether you are posting in praise or criticism of the YMCA, we encourage you to develop a thoughtful argument that extends well beyond “that’s really cool” or “that totally sucks”.
  4. Report unsanctioned contact – In the Abuse Prevention Code of Conduct that you signed you agreed to no contact with YMCA-related children apart from YMCA programs. If you receive email or blog entries from any children whom you know from YMCA programming, you should contact your supervisor. Any Response to them is in violation of your no-contact promise to the YMCA. If you do receive such a communication you should determine how the child got your email or blog address and you should correct the deficiency and block further correspondence

Please call us at 800-463-8546 to discuss this or any other risk management safety tip, or visit our web site at www.redwoodsgroup.com to learn more about YMCA risk management issues.

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