A few days ago, the NUJ received an enquiry from a journalist working for a well-known multinational newspaper company that is trying to collect data about the social media accounts - corporate and personal - of all its staff members.
The company's ostensible reason is that it wants to identify all the places where people may be promoting its titles online. In reality, it seems likely that the company wants to monitor its employees' tweets, blogs, Facebook updates and the like, just in case anyone says something against corporate policy or the editorial line of a company title.
Naturally, the journalists are up in arms. Some of them may not even have tweeted before - now they're all at it. And phrases like "invasion of privacy", "surveillance society" and "Big Brother" are flying about the twittersphere like cannonballs. Speaking your mind on a social network may suddenly become a sackable offence.
Meanwhile, in the US, the fine folk at Associated Press - one of the world's leading news agencies - have fired a shot across the bows of their journalists. In early July, Tom Kent, AP's Deputy Managing Editor for Standards and Production, issued a memo to all staff. The memo was headed: "Expressing personal opinions on social networks".
"In at least two recent cases," wrote Kent "we have seen a few postings on social networks by AP staffers expressing personal opinions on issues in the news.... These posts undermine the credibility of our colleagues who have been working so hard to assure balanced and unbiased coverage of these issues." Kent's blast was directed at a minority of AP staffers who had clearly embarrassed the company with their online comments. But - importantly - Kent's memo explicitly makes no distinction between personal and corporate comments. All it says is: "AP staffers should not make postings [on social networks] that amount to personal opinions on contentious public issues." In other words, if you work for AP, you're never off duty.
Of course many organisations claim that anyone who is known to work for them should be mindful of not identifying their own ideas, beliefs and comments with those of the organisation - that's why we have invented the phrase "writing in a personal capacity" and the other one, "the views expressed here in no way reflect the policy of the company for whom X works".
Not good enough for AP. Even if you're a humble drudge at the news face who maintains a personal Twitter account or Facebook page, you should never depart from the AP line.
So the question has arisen of what we - the union - should do about this. On the most basic level, we're looking at guidelines for members on using social networks, but should we be thinking about negotiating with employers?
We'd like to find out your views on what the NUJ should do, and we'll be updating this blog with our own ideas on a regular basis. We'll also be raising the question on our LinkedIn group (for members only), so you might want to look at that: http://www.linkedin.com/groups?gid=21814