Why Social Networking is Evil


Are we caging our communications

Back in the early days of the Internet, companies and government agencies connected up and started to use email as a means of communication beyond the usual LAN restricted email within the office. This was novel it was new. It was seen as the new method of business communication. It also became the new method of social communication. Over time the bean counters and bureaucrats looked at this communications tool and saw that it was in fact taking up too much of the younger staff product work time. So email was restricted to senior and key personnel and the walls around the corporate communications structure where re-enforced rebuild. The same thing happened with the Web. It’s was given open rein, until it was perceived to be consuming corporate productivity, and so it was restricted to a few key personnel.

Does this sound familiar. Is this happening again? Let’s think about Social Networking and related Instant Messaging systems. These are now being painted as the bad boys on the block by the Australian Media, as pointed out by Laurel Papworth and Stephen Collins maybe there is more to this. Like email and the Web in general before them does Web based Social Networking deserve this reputation, or is it just the media attracting eyeballs and selling copy with it’s usual expect bad journalistic style.

Let’s look closer at this. Why do some organizations allow unfretted access to all but socially sensitive aspect of the internet (which is understandable). While other organizations will barely allow external email access or even the use of external telecommunications basics such as mobile phones or the simple land line telephone.

In the main we have to look at why people restrict such communications. This is an area in which I understand the viewpoints of senior management concerned. Now I may not agree with them but I do understand them. Often the motivations come down to:

  • Fear of the Unknown

    Computers are still very new to many people in middle to senior management. They rely on the media (technical and main stream) and other sources to educate and help formulate their options. These people are within the lost Internet generation, to old to be retired and have taken up an interest in the Internet, but not young enough to consider a computer and the Internet as commonplace. Any demonstrated business advantage of the Internet is outweighed by this fear, fear of the “what if”, fear of the unknown. Fear that the Internet is associated with all of societies ills.

  • Easy Target

    Usage of computer and accessing of the related Internet services can be measured and logged. This gives an easy to quantify value for managers and bean counters to determine the KPIs in relation to Internet usage. Compare this to the usual wasted productivity in office gossip or talk around the coffee machine. This can’t be measured easily. It’s human nature to go with the easiest target. Hence anything computer related is fair game.

  • Security

    You can understand the concern to protect against leaks of information with a corporate environment. Many a company or career has been destroyed over an email leak. What you ideally want to do is restrict your staff access to the outside world while they work for you to the absolute minimum. Hence remove external email, web even phone access (Yes I know a cases of this happening even today). The less distractions the better. Social Networks are no different they are just another threat to the security of the corporate computing environment.

One interesting point is usually you can trace back a poilcy within an organisation for blocking these means of modern communications back to one person. This stereotypically a middle aged non progressive IT manager that just wants to control everything. We have all encountered this type of person. In many cases the likelihood of them remotely understanding Social Networking is extreme as they have yet to come to terms with the Web itself.

On the upside things will change, they did with email and the Web (in general) the corporate firewalls will comedown as these naysayers and aging dinosaurs shuffle out of positions of corporate responsibility.

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  1. As Marc Prensky said in his speak in Perth, it is ok those won’t embrace the digital age eventually move on. And organisations that do not learn to effectively innovate face being destroyed by those that do. 🙂 The circle of life


  2. Fear – it is the thing that rules most conversations I have when talking about access to sites in the workplace. Fear we are asking for something they don’t know about and fear that they have to do more work to allow us access.
    Having such available access to the internet in my workplace I cannot imagine working in a place that internet access is assessed on a case by case request. Maybe if Social networking is seen to interfere in worker productivity this will become more common, but I hope not.

  3. I honestly think it’s the nearest thing to a whipping boy that middle and upper management have. They can blame these new technologies, so they do, rather than shoulder the responsibility for not being able to even manage sex in ScoreS with a fistful of fifties…

    Have linked to this from my article – we are both talking about the same thing, and in fact I’ve several other bloggers’ views linked as well, looks like we’re ALL on the same side.

    And – Go Ruddie! With a non-Luddite PM we might finally get some decent incentives happening for IT and innovation…

  4. I think you’re right about there being three reasons, but I think the reasons are, in order: 1. Fear 2. Fear 3. Laziness. The various reactions I get about blogging and social media, from many business owners and managers over 40 or so, can probably be summed up as “don’t ask us to get out of our comfort zone and actually do some of this social networking so we can find out what’s happening – just give me a quick summary”. They just don’t see that they are doing very good impersonations of being business dinosaurs.

  5. Amazing isn’t it – rather than seeing blogs and wikis as a means to streamline communication and reduce festering email congestion, emerging technologies appear to be too fun to be taken seriously!
    Perhaps it is a matter of education, removing some of the mystique etc. A good book I read recently “The Iceberg is Melting” talks about change management and I felt some of these techniques could apply towards adaption of emerging technologies.

    All good points tho, good reading thanks.

  6. I think wonderwebby hits the nail on the head — social apps are too fun. Anything that’s fun can’t serve a meaningful purpose in business and productivity, right? Meanwhile, the generation that is growing up on these apps, with their emphasis on actually generating positive feelings (imagine!) are going to demand similar levels of positive engagement in everything they do… including work.

  7. Gary, thanks for the link love. It’s nice to see from the large number of posts about this article that have appeared that there are a good number of people on our collective page. It appears, however, that we aren’t in positions of influence or management… Or are we just too complacent or apathetic to do something about it?

    If we’re all so angry about this misinformation getting into our organisations and preventing us from using the tools we need to do out jobs properly, we need to make a noise about it – dump copies of Meet Charlie and Meet Charlotte on our managers’ desks, evangelise Knowledge Worker 2.0, and get people who can speak in an educated way about this stuff (like me, Laurel Papworth, Ross Dawson, etc.) in front of our management.

    It’s only if we do something about it that a shift will happen.

  8. @Des – yes fear is the major player here, fear for a middle level manager can be a major often insurmountable hurdle.

    #Stephen – So how does the independent web business educate these managers, seriously I think this needs to be raised, how do we win over these minds from the outside.

  9. Everytime I look at your header, I want a ciggie. And I don’t even smoke. Such is the power of banner ads. Heh.

    Talking of advertising, and challenges, the whirlpool.net.au (community) versus 2clix sucks ? (company) challenges in court is going to scare companies even further. What if your clients and staff are on a community performing anti-Marketing on your brand. Oopsie! 🙂

  10. once bean counters and old people embrace a technology its already lost its coolness factor and ruined by greedy capitalists. 90 percent of email is spam and the web is a festering butthole of ads

    Long live gopher

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