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TMCNet:  Inquiry shows excessive Facebook use at Dallas City Hall

[July 12, 2011]

Inquiry shows excessive Facebook use at Dallas City Hall

Jul 12, 2011 (The Dallas Morning News - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- One morning in early February, Cesar Baptista photographed the view from his office window inside Dallas City Hall. A freak snow blanketed the plaza outside.


Baptista, an assistant director in the water department, propped his feet on a desk and snapped a photo of his boots.

"I wore snow boots to work today ... how about them apples," he wrote at 9:56 a.m., as he posted the photos on Facebook.com.

Baptista was among about two dozen City Hall workers who received reprimands or counseling after a probe this year showed they spent too much time on Facebook.

City officials, meanwhile, are working on new guidelines to govern how employees use social media. City Manager Mary Suhm says the new directive will supplement a policy already in place.

"The general rule is, you don't do your personal business on the time that the taxpayers are paying you," Suhm said.

In Baptista's case, city analysts found his computer had Facebook open for 68 hours during a three-month period ending in January.

Though Baptista was the highest-ranking Facebook user, he was far from the most chronic. Topping a list of 50 habitual users was an office assistant in the Trinity watershed management department who racked up 198 hours.

One code inspector accumulated 164 hours. Tallying more than 100 hours each were several more office assistants, a convention center crew leader, a water utilities engineer, a cultural affairs coordinator and others.

Together, the employees on the list clocked in more than 3,000 hours on the site.

But the analysis measured only the amount of time a browser sat parked at Facebook. It did not show how much time the employees spent actually interacting with the site.

Baptista said he often clicked to his Facebook page in the morning, then left it open as he did other things.

"It was just a bad habit," he said. "I turned it on and left it there. I wasn't even thinking." He quit opening Facebook at work after the letter of counseling arrived, he said. "Not one of my proudest moments in life." Checking Facebook on the job, whether in government or private business, is hardly unusual.

Facebook hits accounted for more corporate Web activity than any other site, according to an analysis last year by the Internet security company Network Box.

"Although many businesses now use social networks for work, it's unlikely that they're the top working priority for most employees," said Simon Heron, a Network Box analyst, in a news release. "Clearly, human factors, such as the desire to socialize while at work, play a large part." For those who admit to spending too much time on Facebook, a plug-in for the Google Chrome browser called Quickrr Facebook Rehab lets people track their usage so they can limit it.

But for those inclined in the other direction, the Web site HardlyWork.in offers software that turns Facebook pages into spreadsheets, so the boss won't notice.

"Feeling unprofessional when you check your Facebook profile at the office?" the Web site says. "Well, there's nothing more professional than a nice spreadsheet." At City Hall, the Facebook inquiry began with a records request from a TV station. It asked for data showing the five employees who spent the most hours logged into Facebook.

In an email afterward, a city computer analyst notified colleagues: "Suhm will want to know the top 10 users." Suhm eventually received the top 50. But some of the highest Facebook usages were on shared computers for which no single employee was responsible.

City attorneys are vetting the soon-to-be-released new guidelines, which will outline specific rules for social media.

Entirely blocking city computers from Facebook and other sites would seem oppressive to many, like having employees turn in their personal cellphones on the way in the door.

And in any case, it would be unrealistic. The city uses its own Facebook page to communicate with residents and businesses, so employees often have legitimate reasons to be there.

Suhm said city officials began creating the guidelines before the Facebook inquiry.

"We've been working on these social media guidelines for awhile," she said. "They're hard." But the main rule, Suhm said, is easy: "You don't do personal business on city time." To see more of The Dallas Morning News, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.dallasnews.com. Copyright (c) 2011, The Dallas Morning News Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For more information about the content services offered by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services (MCT), visit www.mctinfoservices.com.

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