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Australian workers bullied over social media in the workplace: AVG

By Yolanda Redrup
Monday, 04 February 2013

Six out of 10 Australian workers feel their privacy has been eroded by the widespread usage of social media in the workplace.


A new study by security firm AVG surveyed 4000 adults in 10 countries, including 400 in Australia, as part of their Digital Diaries series and delved into cyber-bullying in the workplace and policies surrounding social media.


Australian adults are finding themselves to be the subject of gossip, distasteful photos and unwanted advances through social media.


The survey found 8% of Australian respondents had discovered secret discussions about themselves online had been initiated by colleagues.


One out of 10 said they have had embarrassing photos or videos taken at a work event and uploaded on to social media sites.


Some workers were reportedly a bit too cordial, with 7% of people saying they had experienced unwanted romantic advances over social media. In the United States this number rose to one in 10 respondents.


AVG security advisor Michael McKinnon told SmartCompany cyber-bullying was not just an issue for teenagers.


"Cyber-bullying is often perceived as being an issue isolated to younger people, but clearly it's not, and it's not terribly surprising considering what it's able to do.


"Separating work and your private life is no longer possible," he says.


Nine out of 10 Australian adults surveyed believed sending unpleasant or defamatory remarks to or about a colleague using digital communications constituted cyber-bullying.


Other forms included posting negative comments online about a colleague's appearance at a work event and criticising a colleague behind their back through email, instant messaging, social media or SMS.


McKinnon says instances of workplace cyber-bullying start to occur when colleagues request each other on social media sites.


"Employees could be accepting requests from colleagues just to keep the peace, but this can cause damage down the track.


"It can make people more hesitant to post things online and not get the most out of the sites.


"Lots of people were being more cautious and these levels were increasing, but people are still being put in a compromised position," he says.


Overall, a quarter of respondents said they were not protected from cyber-bullying as their workplaces do not cover this within existing policies.


But in Australia, this number was only 13%.


McKinnon says he was surprised this number was not higher given 8% of people reported having a manager, or person in a higher position, use information found on a social media site against them or a colleague.


The survey did not determine any figures which were industry specific, but McKinnon says there would be differences.


"There would definitely be some differences between industries regarding the expectation of privacy.

"The expectation of privacy in trades business, for example, where they're not using social media during the day would be higher than for office workers," he says.


McKinnon says businesses should start considering workplace policies around social media which are similar to those already in place in schools.


"When I saw this, my initial reaction was that school's already kind of do this.


"Teachers can't communicate with students on social media and sometimes students are discouraged from communicating with each other too," he says.


McKinnon says the survey highlights a key difference between children and adults when it comes to dealing with cyber-bullying.


"Teens are often advised to ignore it and delete the message, but workers and adults faced with the same dilemma are far more likely to speak up," he says.


Fifty-one per cent of Australian respondents said they would confront a colleague if they were being cyber-bullied, with this number going as high as 65% in Germany.


McKinnon says the issue demands attention.


"Privacy is just such a hot issue – it's something we're dealing with on a daily basis now more than ever before.


"We're all learning how to interact with each other online in a social way – we're largely part of a very big experiment.


"Other technologies will emerge which are serious threats on our privacy and social media is just one of these," he says.


This story first appeared on SmartCompany.

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