The Volvo/Wikipedia Debacle: Why we need clear guidelines, not just policy

Earlier last week Wikipedia took an unusual step – and banned certain IP addresses that belonged to Volvo from editing Wikipedia web pages. Why? Because some staff for Volvo’s own IT department had been using Wikipedia to post racist and defamatory content. You’d think the IT folks would know that IP addresses are tracked and can easily be traced back to their origins, but apparently they were either ignorant or just plain stupid. Volvo have come out of this looking pretty bad.

They do of course have policy written on how to use things like email, and it’s pretty black and white:

“It is not allowed to use e-mail for sending or any other way of transmission for sending or receiving any information which is racist, obscene, offensive, threatening; or which includes harm to minors, hoaxes, malicious code, unwanted advertising, material intended to disturb other’s equipment, or which is sent in a way that includes breach of any person’s rights, copyright, privacy or other rights. It is not allowed to impersonate other users, to distribute pornographic material, to upload, download or distribute child pornography or illegal software. It is not allowed to send or facilitate unsolicited commercial email or bulk emails or to mail bomb, i.e. to intentionally try to impede another person’s use of e-mail services.”

But is policy enough? Many other leading companies have decided not, and instead of simply having a policy telling people what they shouldn’t do, they also have guidelines telling people what they should do. Blue chips like Cisco, IBM and Intel all encourage their employees to make use of social networking tools to enhance communication and collaboration, but crucially they provide guidance on how to use these tools (you can read the relevant pages on the Cisco, IBM and Intel websites).

It’s clear that social networks are not going to go away, and the ability for people to write to the web more generally as well as simply read it is only going to grow over time. It seems a restrictive policy might well simply be burying the issue, and the best way to avoid ending up in Volvo’s unhappy position is to lead staff in use of the web, not rely on outdated policy with only limited relevance to the web today.

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