U.S. Rep. Weiner's Twitter Exposure Shows Risk of Risqu??« Social Networking

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2011-06-07

U.S. Rep. Weiner's Twitter Exposure Shows Risk of Risqu??« Social Networking

Just when you think you've seen the heights of career-ending stupidity in Washington, you're reminded that stupidity has no upper limit. With that in mind, I submit as evidence the continuing tragicomedy of U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., who finally confessed to this town's worst kept secret.

He did indeed send lewd photos of himself clad in tight underwear to a college student. After several days of evasions and lies about this incident in which he claimed his Twitter account had been hacked, the congressman finally came clean.

One would have thought that he'd learned a lesson from the somewhat less graphic Craigslist posting by Rep. Chris Lee, R-N.Y., who used his cell phone to take photos of himself topless in front of a mirror. The question still remains: What were these two New York politicians thinking? 

But there are other serious questions that go beyond speculating why two apparently sane New York lawmakers would think that somehow their foolish use of social networking wouldn't become public and ruin their political careers.

Instead, companies of all sizes should consider what would happen if a senior employee or maybe one that's not so senior used the company's computers and network to send embarrassing and even offensive photos around the Internet. Suppose, for example, that your CEO is caught sending similar photos to an employee or someone outside the company.

Worse, suppose that Joe down in the mail room is collecting and distributing even more offensive and illegal photos over the Internet? What happens then? What this means is that you need more than just the sort of vague Internet policy that most companies have. You know-the one that allows some personal use as long as it's on your time and not interfering with company business and doesn't involve leaking trade secrets.

Your Internet policy has to include proper conduct on social media as well as actions on crimes committed on the Internet. Just in case you think that I'm making this up, companies deal with these problems daily but frequently don't have a policy in place that lets them do anything to either prevent the problem or deal with its aftermath.

U.S. Rep. Weiner's Twitter Exposure Shows Risk of Risqu??« Social Networking

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Looking at the most serious problem first: What about Joe and his illegal photo collecting? This is more than just a social networking problem. If Joe is using his email account, then it becomes the company's problem. The police can seize the servers and any computers that they think might contain illegal images.

Your best bet is to make a policy that states that if illegal material is found on the company email system that you and the HR department will lock Joe out of the email system (regardless of his position in the company) and will immediately call the FBI. Volunteer your services in helping the cops find Joe and in getting the incriminating data. If you're lucky, you might be given time to back up the non-illegal data so that you won't go out of business.

But what about those Twitter and Facebook entries that are embarrassing even if they don't include skinny men showing their naked torsos? After all, it's entirely possible for your employees to do some seriously stupid things on social networking while remaining fully clothed. The answer? You have to create a social networking policy for employees that holds them accountable for what they do while in their persona as a company employee.

For example, Sam, an employee in the marketing department, may have a public persona on Twitter that identifies him as a company employee. If he does something there that is bad for the company, then he's going to be held responsible. But Sam might also have a personal Twitter account, say as @beerdrinkinsam, in which he writes about his adventures with brewed beverages. Those are his business, although you might want to keep track of his exploits, if only as a way to score some free beer from time to time.

The bottom line is that as long as your employees can be tied to your company, then your company has an interest in what they say on social networking, and they should be held accountable. To do this, there needs to be a written policy and your employees need to agree to it.

Sadly, if you're a congressman from New York, it's pretty hard to stay anonymous on the Internet. But maybe the state legislature can find a way to require its representatives to keep clothed on the public Internet

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