Tuesday, September 04, 2007

How They Make News

I've read it in half a dozen places now: A poll shows half of all employers won't let employees use Facebook on company time. The poll, conducted by the security company Sophos, bounced around from tech news outlet to tech news outlet, appearing and reappearing over at least a week.

This raises three questions:

1. Why Facebook? MySpace is out there, as are Orkut and Friendster. And then, of course, there's LinkedIn, which Bill and I actually belong to, and which employers say they like too because people use it for business purposes. Of course one of the things LinkedIn does best is help people find new jobs so they can quit their present ones, but these employers don't seem particularly troubled about that.

2. Why do tech news sites inevitably allow security companies to create news stories whenever they feel like it? If Peter Pan issued a great new study about how eating peanut butter improves people's sex lives, would they publish it? Or would they look for independent corroboration first? What if it was a Tobacco Institute study on the health benefits of smoking? And yet, every time a security company issues a supposedly unbiased study on a growing security threat, the tech media slavishly republishes it without pausing for even a nanosecond to question the motivation.

3. Does it matter? "That's what my iPhone is for," posted one responder to the CNet story. In fact, this poster rarely bothers to use a computer for Facebook anymore. So with mobile devices more and more powerful, and more and more sites like Facebook designed to work on them, does it really matter what restrictions employers place on desktops?

It's just one more example of how business leaders often are one step behind technology: telling employees what they can and can't do with their work computers, as if those employees weren't already walking around with their own computers in their pockets.