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01 Mar 2023

Why 'BeReal' can be a big deal: Risks of social media for the bus industry

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You would be forgiven for asking "What is 'BeReal' and what has it got to do with buses?". BeReal is a social media app which encourages users to take snapshot of their day at a particular time and to share it with friends on the social media platform. Users are notified - simultaneously and at different times each day - of  the two minute window in which they should take a photo – both a selfie-style photo and a rear camera shot at the same time - capturing what they are doing. The app also records how many retakes a user does and makes the information available to followers. The premise is that friends share "real" photos of their lives in real time, intended to be an antidote to much of the filtered, choreographed, "fake" pictures on other forms of social media. The retake count helps show how "curated" a photo is – the intention being to get that genuine snapshot, first time, of a person's life.

With the continual advent of new forms of social media, employers in the bus industry need to stay on top of their game to try to prevent misuse of social media by employees, ensure employees are protected where customers or pedestrians act recklessly, and some of the other unintended consequences that could emerge as social media evolves more quickly than policies.

Does social media compromise safety?

Safety and safe working practices are of paramount importance for the bus industry and social media won't change the dedication of staff to safety culture. However, apps like BeReal can be addictive, encouraging immediate and real-time responses that can be challenging to ignore. Whilst there is an option to post a photo at a later time, late posts are tagged accordingly and detract from the premise to share "real" time photos arguably undermining the purpose of the app. So it is important to ensure that a small lapse in attention driven by the app's need for immediacy doesn't have unintended and severe consequences. From the driver momentarily distracted by an app notification through to the mechanic undertaking maintenance work or the manager misreading recommendations because of the familiar vibration of a smartphone wanting attention, the potential is there. With use of a mobile phone at the wheel attracting criminal consequences, mobile phone usage policies will be important to revisit, even if to confirm they remain appropriate.

Using the BeReal app whilst on duty, resulting in a minor lapse in concentration – recognising the notification comes in at different times on different days - could have serious consequences. We see on social media great images and insights into the real life of the bus industry and this isn't to discourage that. This is all about being sensible and safe in using social media.

It's not just customer-facing bus staff that could face challenges from social media developments, but those in head office too. If individuals take photos of themselves at work, with computer screens in the background or papers on their desk, they may inadvertently be sharing confidential information. This has the potential to create significant risks for the bus industry from a commercial perspective.

What can bus industry employers do to protect against the misuse of social media by employees?

Social media policies

A robust social media policy is key. Ideally this should set clear guidelines about employees' use of social media both inside and outside the workplace. Some bus companies have chosen to use social media to interact with customers and contacts – such as through Twitter. Many bus companies use social media to recruit staff, or promote their services to customers, or generally advertise what they offer, such as the current £2 fares promotion, which has recently been extended as a result of additional government support until the end of June. Social media can positively contribute to awareness, brand promotion and information provision to customers.

So in approaching social media policies, bus businesses need to be nuanced. We have recently seen, for example, British Airways being heavily criticised on social media for changes to its social media policy which, staff say, stop them from promoting the business. Social media users have claimed this will damage the brand as people will no longer see it promoted by its staff or see the excitement of travel. What does all of this mean for bus companies? It is important that policies strike the right balance. Policies should include:

  • clear guidance on when the use of social media is permitted during working hours and, equally, when social media must not be used, such as when driving;
  • protection of company confidential information, intellectual property assets and privileged information;
  • awareness of company reputation and not posting anything that may bring the company into disrepute – this extends to the use of private social media accounts and any content which could cause potential reputational damage to the company;
  • protection of third-party confidentiality and privacy;
  • guidance on what is appropriate use of social media including prohibition of harassment, bullying, discrimination; and
  • consideration of how the social media policy interacts with other policies, such as disciplinary, internet usage and equal opportunity policies.

Education and training

It's crucial that policies are not created simply as a "tick box" exercise and left to gather dust, but that employers provide education and training to ensure policies are actively understood and used. Educating employees about when, if at all, it is appropriate to use social media during a working day is key – and this may vary between roles. Educating staff about the risks of disclosing or misusing the company's confidential information, such as by inadvertently including it in a photo posted on BeReal or other social media accounts, is also important. This is about making the policies "BeReal", rather than a piece of paper which is only looked at when something goes wrong. Additionally, it will be worth reminding employees that confidential information isn't just the 'top secret' company affairs, but can include a broad range of material and information. The same can be said about personal data and what may constitute a breach of data protection obligations.

Confidentiality is implied into employees' contracts of employment – and this will usually be supplemented by express confidentiality provisions in the contract of employment. Disclosing confidential information on social medial – even if inadvertent – would lead to a breach of these confidentiality requirements – and that can cause significant damage to the bus business. If third party information is disclosed, and that information is confidential, the business could be in trouble: it could be breaching confidentiality and data protection obligations. Perhaps more importantly for the employee, it can also result in disciplinary action being taken against them.

Consequences for breaching the social media policy?

What happens if an employee breaches the social media policy? The social media policy may set out the consequences of any such action, instead it could refer to the company disciplinary policy. What might a disciplinary process involve? Typically, it will include:

  • a preliminary meeting with the employee to gather information about what has happened;
  • carrying out any necessary investigation;
  • allowing the employee the chance to put their side of the story across at a disciplinary hearing; and
  • deciding on an appropriate disciplinary sanction, which could be anything from a verbal warning up to dismissal, depending on the specific facts and circumstances.

If an employee is compromising the health and safety of any individuals, this may constitute gross misconduct and justify dismissal.

Depending on the nature of the breach, employers may also need to report the incident to the Health and Safety Executive, or the Information Commissioner, and be prepared to show the protections they have in place and how they will prevent it from happening again.

Tips for employers

As social media apps continue to be launched, it's worth considering how they work in the real world and the possible implications for bus businesses. From that, it may be worth revisiting and reviewing social media policies, so they are always up to date and ensure the business is not placed at risk. Accompanying this, refresher training may well be needed to ensure the workforce is up to speed with the risks and best practice guidelines. Whilst social media can be a valuable tool for the bus industry, it needs to be used in the right situations and in the right ways to ensure the benefits continue to outweigh the possible risks. 

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KEY CONTACT

Tammy Samuel

Tammy Samuel
Partner and co head of rail

T:  +44 20 7809 2227 M:  +44 7766 991 053 Email Tammy | Vcard Office:  London

Suzanne Tarplee

Suzanne Tarplee
Partner and co head of rail

T:  +44 20 7809 2389 M:  +44 7718 247 220 Email Suzanne | Vcard Office:  London

Leanne Raven

Leanne Raven
Senior knowledge lawyer

T:  +44 20 7809 2560 M:  +44 7827 353 108 Email Leanne | Vcard Office:  London