Social Media – tread judiciously to safeguard yourself and your institution

(An article written for a publication, to appear soon. While we are aware of all the lovely upsides, very few look at the downsides, especially in an institutional environment. This article / interview has been in that context.)

Social Media is a great tool to reap rich rewards, if tread judiciously.  Institutions and individuals have adopted social media (e.g. Facebook, Linkedin, blogs, Twitter) as a medium of sharing information and connecting with people.

  • Institutional uses include connecting with work groups, sharing knowledge, recruiting, rapid dissemination of information as conditions change, and connecting with immediate stakeholders or larger audience.
  • Individuals are excited about reconnecting with people who are distant in both time and location or engaging with others who share similar interests and many a times to show the face that would get them more following and LIKES!!

The impact of these tools of ‘unimaginable speed’ is far reaching. While this rapid and widespread dissemination has many advantages, many times the social networking sites end up being a place for big online cocktail party or even an open glasshouse! It is no more about reaching twenty people with ‘an image’, but about twenty million with a click of the mouse!

1. What are the specific concerns around security on social networks as it relates to the higher education sector (Institution, students and faculty)? Any incidents of security threat through the social network especially in academic environments?

The very nature of the medium makes an individual, institution, organization and even a nation vulnerable. The unintended and intended consequences are pretty high –

  • Classrooms with laptops and wifi connectivity have not only created distractions, but also made the institutions vulnerable – anything can fly-out any time!
  • Break-ins resulting from innocuous Tweets about being on leave or vacation
  • Students posting a short video on YOUTUBE –
    • A discussion among themselves about a situation or a faculty, tarnishing the image;
    • A video of preparing food in an unsanitary way leading to charges of health code violations
  • With corporate recruiters and other stake holders always cross checking the veracity of statements of individuals in their CVs or publications with their online presence and activities, every individual is vulnerable
  • Social friendship building to an emotional plane and at times threat to personal privacy leading to really bizarre situations; god forbid the extreme personal safety incidents that come to light!
  • At an extreme, institutionally –
    • It shapes perceptions and thinking like the one that may lead to revolutions like the African spring across nations, an Anna Hazare’s movement in India, ‘Occupy squares’ in the US – universities and institutions have always been the hubs and epicenters!
    • Educational, corporates, research labs, national agencies – The number of channels of exit of classified documents have multiplied: Wikileaks is a great example of thriving on such a phenomenon

Knowingly or unknowingly many of the innocuous acts on this medium of ‘anonymity’ and ‘lulled privacy’ are leading to damaging the public’s perception of an individual, institution, organization and nation.

In fact, the law has not yet caught up with the pace at which technology is moving, leaving many helpless! Nations like India are still groping in the dark!

2. What guidelines do you recommend/suggest to prepare students and faculty in the higher education sector for the security concerns on social networks?

Social networks are highly impacting channels to communicate to the outside world in an economical way. What could be a better way than reaching the target segment directly without clutter! World wide they have taken away about 20-30% pie from conventional marketing channels. But, yes, if it is not handled judiciously we can end up in a soup.

Recognizing the vulnerability and threats, intentional and unintentional, an institution has to safe guard itself and its community. The aforesaid reasons are compelling enough for most institutions to come out with behavioral code or advisory on ‘net-etiquettes’. Everyone will benefit if each one of us keep a few things in mind –

  • Discretion is part of valor – While creating your profile page or writing on any blog or public forum, do not divulge any detailed information [addresses, designations, birth dates, family details, schedules, business or financial information.] that would expose you or anyone else to unscrupulous individuals who may take advantage of it in the future or makes you vulnerable of identity theft or malicious threats.
  • Think before you type – Internet gives false security, your guard is low and at times you type things without any inhibitions.  This includes gossip, insults, obscenity or even outrageous claims. Be careful so that nothing will come back to haunt you.
  • Being a Skeptic helps for sure – Useful information as well as useless propaganda is abounding on social networks. While a few out there are wearing colorful masks or even masquerading as some one else to further their personal agenda, certainly a great number of posts or stupid or ignorant. Take everything with a pinch of salt!
  • Professionalism pays
    • Never post any picture or video of individuals, contexts and situations that can compromise anyone’s dignity and security, above all institutions.
    • Never download anything from untrusted sources that can compromise your personal privacy – computer, personal data, bank accounts and also institutions privacy.
    • Check the privacy and security setting details on your net-tools and bring in appropriate checks to thwart any untoward data flow.

  • Vigilant Firewalls save – Take precautions by creating monitoring methods to track individual accounts for unusual bandwidth traffic. This can help quicken any response towards untoward endings.

All in all, if our sensory and analytical antennae are conscious and alive, we can certainly take advantage of such a wonderful medium. Let us tread judiciously.

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