Review: Social Media Smarts

On Tuesday, April 16, the Information Systems Security Association hosted Michael Janke, who gave the presentation “Social Media Smarts”, at the Government Printing Office in Washington, DC.  Mr. Janke is the founder of Silent Circle, the author of Take Control, and the co-founder of PGP (Pretty Good Privacy). The technology of PGP is owned by Symantec, and is responsible for securing and encrypting communication on a peer-to-peer basis.

Mr. Janke explained that data is the customer, not users themselves. Today, very profitable firms exist solely on social information. These firms are responsible for packaging data for Facebook and for advising companies on how to maximize their use of Facebook. In the words of Mr. Janke’s good friend Dan Geer, “information wants to be free, but data wants to be expensive.” One may interpret this quote to mean that while individuals and firms wish to share their information for free, storing, interpreting and maximizing the use of data comes at a premium price.

Mr. Janke addressed the rapid modernization of firms toward incorporating social media into their standard set of policies and employee regulations. In many companies “Social” is now a part of IT, Legal, and PR departments. Many firms have Twitter policies and hire other companies to manage their bad reviews or tweets. Firms are increasingly concerned about reputation management and liability, and are creating restrictions regarding the use of social media within employment contracts. Social media law is becoming increasingly complex. For example, there is significant variation between firms regarding the use of social media during work hours, as well as the use of personal and professional emails and social networks.

Social media has many applications and can be used in a variety of situations. It has the potential to enable communication, such as when indicating the closure of a parking lot at the Pentagon or of an accident on I-395. Social media may also disable communication, as seen on certain online chat forums, which allow for secure communication between a user and a technician over an encrypted network so that the user’s information is never recorded. Given that social media may mean different things to different audiences, it is important to understand both the legal boundaries and the specific organizational context for ones intended use.

Mr. Janke’s presentation was very relevant for understanding the implications and boundaries of social media with respect to the workplace. I certainly feel that it is important to use social media intelligently, being mindful of the risks and opportunities involved when engaging social networks.