The Security and the Ethics of Social Media

By Rob Wenger posted Feb 21, 2010 04:39 PM

I was reminded the other day at the dinner table of the old adage “where there is a will there is a way”. My son, who is in 5th grade, frequently has to do research on his school computers for assignments. However, unlike the free market environment where information is readily available, he does not have access to Google, Yahoo or Bing. The school has blocked access to most search engines except for those deemed safe, such as Encyclopedia Britannica.

At dinner, he was beaming as he informed us that he and his friends had figured out a work around for this inconvenience. The school had overlooked in the sites that they blocked and he and his cohorts were now free to Google to their hearts content. So you can imagine if even the youngest can find a work around to technology barriers, members savvy in social media will find a way to use it whether you as an organization participate or not. The question is not necessarily whether your members will communicate on-line, because they will, but whether they understand the complexities of the various forms communication available on this new social networking highway.

Many of you may have heard about the Tweet that landed a young man in jail when, frustrated by kinks in his travel plans, he jokingly tweeted that he was going to blow up the airport. He was stunned when airport authorities found out about it as it was only intended for his Twitter followers. And that is the bottom line - you, your members, anyone can never know how far their message can be heard when posted publicly. This brings us to the strange ideology of ethics in this new electronic world. The young man knew that if he spoke or wrote this threat within the airport, he would be arrested immediately, but because he felt he was safe in his Twitter Zone, regular rules did not apply. We see so many types of blatant disregard for the law and ethics with the advent of new electronic mediums from employee theft of corporate/organizational data to cyberbullying.

At Higher Logic, we always stress how important it is to have a well defined code of conduct when implementing a social network and clarifying what is and what is not acceptable. Monitoring content and ferreting out inappropriate comments and personal agendas is fundamental. Also educating your members to the risks of sharing information and providing case studies or articles on social media don’ts is simply good business practice. Your members need to feel safe in their network, free to participate and opine. Your intellectual property goes far beyond your papers and research, your membership is your most valuable asset and you must do everything you can to preserve that value.