Social media(tion) and the reshaping of public/private boundaries in employment relations

McDonald, Paula and Thompson, Paul (2016) Social media(tion) and the reshaping of public/private boundaries in employment relations. International Journal of Management Reviews, 18 (1). pp. 69-84. ISSN 1460-8545 (

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Tensions surrounding social media in the employment relationship are increasingly evident in the media, public rhetoric, and courts and employment tribunals. Yet the underlying causes and dimensions of these tensions have remained largely unexplored. This article firstly reviews the available literature addressing social media and employment, outlining three primary sources of contestation: profiling, disparaging posts and blogs, and private use of social media during work time. In each area, the key dynamics and underlying concerns of the central actors involved are identified. The article then seeks to canvas explanations for these forms of contestation associated with social media at work. It is argued that the architecture of social media disrupts traditional relations in organisational life by driving employer and employee actions that (re)shape and (re)constitute the boundaries between public and private spheres. Although employers and employees are using the same social technologies, their respective concerns about and points of entry to these technologies, in contrast to traditional manifestations of conflict and resistance, are asymmetric. The article concludes with a representational summary of the relative legitimacy of concerns for organisational actors and outlines areas for future research.