03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Social Media: Banning vs. Blocking

I am sorry I have to write, this but it appears some of the leading technology journals are unable to agree on the difference between a ban and a block. If I didn't know better, some editors might think the two verbs are synonyms.

The facts

On October 6, 2009, IT staffing firm Robert Half International released the results of an independent survey of 1,400 chief information officers that 54% of U.S. companies with 100 or more employees ban access to social networking sites.

From the press release:

CIOs were asked, "Which of the following most closely describes your company's policy on visiting social networking sites, such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, while at work?" Their responses:

Prohibited completely - 54%
Permitted for business purposes only - 19%
Permitted for limited personal use - 16%
Permitted for any type of personal use - 10%
Don't know/no answer - 1%

"Using social networking sites may divert employees' attention away from more pressing priorities, so it's understandable that some companies limit access," said Dave Willmer, executive director of Robert Half Technology.

"For some professions, however, these sites can be leveraged as effective business tools, which may be why about one in five companies allows their use for work-related purposes."

In response

Mashable: More Than Half of Employers Now Block Twitter, Facebook, MySpace

Wired magazine: Study: 54 Percent of Companies Ban Facebook, Twitter at Work

Turning to Merriam-Webster

The dictionary kings define the intransitive verb, to ban: : to prohibit especially by legal means ; also : to prohibit the use, performance, or distribution of

The transitive verb, to block, is different: : to make unsuitable for passage or progress by obstruction b archaic : blockade c : to hinder the passage, progress, or accomplishment of by or as if by interposing an obstruction d : to shut off from view e : to interfere usually legitimately with (as an opponent) in various games or sports f : to prevent normal functioning or action of g : to restrict the exchange of (as currency or checks)

I'll presume the blocking proponents, like Mashable, are using the "d" clause.

Which is it?

Ben McConnell calls it a ban, echoed by Mario Sundar. Neither define the corporate actions as blocking, typically indicative of security or privacy concerns.

Bans carry the potential for reversal without massive IT infrastructure changes, which blocks insist. In the above study, the companies opt to prohibit their employees from accessing the sites. That option can be reversed tomorrow, so how's it a block?

This post previously appeared here at AriWriter.