Economic Times’ Employee Social Media Contract Negates the Right to Speech!

“Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions” – William O. Douglas.

Compulsion and Control have always been seen in a negative light. For a company of Bennett & Coleman’s stature to take over the identities of their employees and use it as the company’s sole property through social media is perhaps one of the most ridiculous actions within the backdrop of corporate responsibilities of an employee.

Since the dawn of Social Media, the freedom to speech has been seen in a new light. Creating earned media, blogging, self-publishing, viral news have all been a part of exercising the role of a citizen journalist. This freedom is the one reason that the world has been attracted to the most social form of media and relied on it for voicing opinions which they have otherwise been restricted to do through other forms of media. This has sometimes been wrongly put to use considering the disruptive human mind but has mostly been a great tool.

I make a firm point about the freedom of speech particularly in this story because this is now being violated by another media company, Economic Times, where employees are being forced to sign a contract with the company which states

“Recognizing the growing importance of social media, you and the company are mutually desirous of creating a user account by the name of “The Economic Times/ET” on the Facebook/Twitter/Google+ websites/mobile platforms (the ‘user account’). It is understood that you shall make regular posts on the user account which will involve various material and works created by you, while in contract with the company.” 

The word ‘Desirous’ is used in the contract which is simply outrageous considering it is a forceful contract and journalists have been vary of signing it. One of them who spoke to us off the record said,

“The policy is suffocating, and I didn’t realize they would have the right to publish anything via my account.”

Stealing Identities and Opinions?

This is a strong case of stealing an identity of an individual and using it as company property in order to garner more reach for the brand. On moral ground this is strictly not acceptable.

Social Media is simply the art of connecting and building relationships online between brands and consumers, publications and readers and among various communities. If this is treated as a vehicle to take over employee accounts and use it for brand benefits, the sole purpose of expressing individual opinions through social media stands questionable.

However, this is probably not a one of a kind employee contract in the world.

We also spoke to a lawyer who has shed light on legal grounds. Dushyant K Mahant, Founding Partner, Mahant & Mahant Advocates said,

“A company is well within its rights to secure the content originating from their employees while using resources of company. At the end of the day, user is a face of the Company online. There have been instances when after an employee leaves, the Company claimed right and title to the twitter id which the user made and used while employed with the Company. The id also had initials of the Company.

In any industry, however, there cannot be a blanket ban from posting some content which the user wants to share. If an associate of mine finds some interesting article from other law firm’s blog, I will encourage her to circulate it. This is healthy interaction. After 1947, India has become a free Country, last I checked.

A policy restraining Journalists from posting content from a rival publication can be only termed as absurd and gross non application of mind. Moreover, when the Company reserves the right to post anything from user’s account, it only means that Company will be spamming us. I will not follow any such user who behaves like a bot online.

All this cannot be termed as healthy as it is completely one sided favoring the Company.”

The fact that sharing content on Facebook and Twitter is inevitably a part of human nature (users share what interests them the most), be it in form of a news, picture or video, being restricted by the company, leaves me to a conclusion that this is the only thing that can be worse than a hash-tag contest to gain eyeballs on Twitter and Facebook.

The other points in the contract are: 

– The Brand has the right to tweet/share from their official User account which the brand will create. ‘ET’ will be used next to the user’s name on this account. This account will serve as the brand’s Intellectual property. The users should generate content on these accounts regularly.

– Personal accounts of users cannot talk about work or share any news related material.

– List of followers that the Brand-user account has will automatically become company’s property.

– Revenue generated from these accounts, probably by indirectly selling reach will be owned by the company.

– The company can upload news or other material from the user account, using automated upload streams. This might make it possible for the brand to sell the collective reach of their journalists to their advertisers.

– The contract is dated 23rd July and the journalists were made to sign it last week.

We tried reaching out to the senior people at the company & have written to them – We are still waiting for their response.

Update: So far the only comment from them is this tweet by Satyan Gajwani, CEO of Times Internet,

 

We will keep updating this story as we continue to get quotes and news updates.

 

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