Twitter is dangerous

Twitter is dangerous

Summary: Twitter is rapidly becoming a serious threat to corporate information protection. The program's great strength -- many-to-many messaging -- becomes its great weakness in this context.


Twitter is rapidly becoming a serious threat to corporate information protection. The program's great strength -- many-to-many messaging -- becomes its great weakness in this context.

Imagine this scenario: 20 people are in a confidential meeting, one of them using Twitter. This attendee broadcasts an off-hand "tweet" (Twitter comment) to his or her "followers" (Twitter friends). With traditional instant messaging, that message would be received by perhaps one or two others. With Twitter, that comment may be seen by 10, 100, 1000, or more followers.

Why it matters? Twitter has the power to turn groups of innocent bystanders into instant analysts. Even seemingly innocuous comments, when put before a large group of people, can be analyzed more rapidly, and in more depth, than you might expect. This can easily cause ranges of unintended, highly negative, consequences.

If you're running corporate IT, what should you do? You've got a few choices:

  1. Pretend the problem doesn't exist. Not being one to advocate head-in-sand methods, I can't recommend this approach.
  2. Block, or monitor, Twitter, as you might do with traditional instant messaging programs, such as Yahoo or AIM. It's a tried and true method - not the best, but it works.
  3. Acknowledge the inevitable, and establish clear information sharing policies and guidelines. In the long run users, like water, will seek their own level. In other words, users will eventually adopt the tools they want, whether you want them to or not. The wise among us will recognize this certainty.

The solution: be prepared to strongly enforce information-sharing policies. If confidential information is being shared, even innocently, question the judgment of the sharer.

By the way, if you think Twitter isn't mainstream enough to matter, think again. It's currently got almost 700,000 users, many of them influential early adopters. Twitter isn't going away, and like all tools, it can be used for both good and evil. Balancing Twitter's dangers and benefits may not be easy, but you'd better start thinking about it today.

Disclaimer: I love Twitter, so it pains me to write this. If you want to follow me on Twitter, click here.

Topics: Collaboration, Browser, CXO, Social Enterprise

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  • Social Media Policy Time

    Sure you can go ahead and enforce some restrictions, but there are almost always ways around them. A good, solid and clear social media policy is becoming a necessity. Tie it into your work contract and make it clear that social networks are considered a form of media.
    Gavin Heaton
    • What does that mean?

      "Social networks are a form of media"? Translation in English please?
  • Forms of media

    As you would know, many organisations have policies for dealing with enquiries from the media. It is normally simple - pass all questions through to the PR/Communications team.

    I am seeing this as not an IT policy issue but as an issue with potential to impact the entire business. Having said that, IT clearly needs to lead this discussion, bring it to the table and show the parallels with the more mainstream forms of media. As you say, there are some influential Twitterers out there ... and an off-hand tweet could cause significant damage.

    I am not necessarily saying that Twitter and its ilk ought to be banned ... just that there needs to be a greater level of awareness about its potential impact.
    Gavin Heaton
    • Is that practical?

      Can you really consider Twitter a form of third-party media from that perspective? Yes, it has attributes of the media, but in reality it's something very very different. That's what makes this such a vexing issue.
  • RE: Twitter is dangerous

    One thing not mentioned is that with applications like
    #hashtags ( the messages get
    archived for ever.
    Must remember to remind Eric to not Twitter "Off to
    {name target} with Sergey to get our offer accepted"
    • Thanks for the explanation

      I always wondered what those Twitter tags are - thanks for the pointer to!
  • RE: Twitter is dangerous

    Thankfully not many people use twitter around here - yet.
    We have 2-5 years (or even more) to think on a proper solution :)
  • Imagine this!

    Instead of using Twitter, the employee launches their email client and EMAILS that same note to 1000 people, and those 1000 people forward it to two friends, and so on and so on... Email has more viral capability than the Twitter platform, so it's an even bigger risk.

    Same problem, different technology.
    • Far easier to unknowingly release info with Twitter

      Email requires a larger, more elaborate "conscious act". With Twitter, an off-the-cuff, innocent comment can have far-reaching consequences.
  • RE: Twitter is dangerous

    The standard confidentiality agreement that employees sign when they are hired covers all forms of information sharing, so really from that standpoint users shouldn't be saying anything about the business on any social media portal.
  • RE: Twitter is dangerous

    Come on, this is equivalent to yelling "Fire!" because someone in the room lit a cigarette...

    Yes a "cigarette" can start a fire but only when the person using it is an idiot. Same goes for Twitter.

    This is why confidentiality agreements etc. exist. Most people are smart enough to play by the rules but the agreement lets you purge the idiots from your organization rather than blocking a useful tool for everyone else in spite of them.
    • Why do so many organizations block IM

      Your argument falls apart when you consider instant messaging policies. If there's no need for the policies, why do so many companies enforce them?
      • other risks

        IM clients are blocked at my employer because they are viewed as a potential avenue for viruses, trojans, worms, hackers, and any number of other bad things.

        There is a concern about loose lips, but I think it's a distant second to network security.
        Erik Engbrecht
  • Depends on your outlook

    I am sure any information sharing is dangerous, but in that sharing is power as well...

    Example, yesterday as the smoke appeared from the old white house building...newjimmedia tweeted that there was smoke.... meanwhile on the west coast.. i receive the news within seconds.... I had the information BEFORE the networks could broadcast it....

    Think about the power of an almost instant network, and what it change it could affect!

    Scary, yes, dangerous, perhaps...but could be an extremely powerful tool if leveraged correctly in a company. Why spend billions of dollars managing your employees when you could be encouraging them to use the network as a a very powerful tool?

    Collective action is always scary to those in power, but those with vision can figure out how to use that power, instead of react to it!
  • The only way to stop it

    is to physically and mentally restrain anyone who is tempted to spill their guts. Hell, we can't even keep a secret in the White House, or the Pentagon, so what makes anyone think that clamp-down control can be exercised against Twitter?

    Then, there's this comment from within the replies: Yes a "cigarette" can start a fire but only when the person using it is an idiot. Same goes for Twitter.

    Well, folks, in case anyone hasn't noticed, we seem to be overrun in this day and age with idiots, and some of them pop up in board rooms, in the White House, and in the Pentagon.
  • Twitter: Over-caffeinated

    Good lord-- go to the twitter home page and leave status updates? Going to a party-- going to eat soup-- late to a meeting--

    no wonder we don't have time for people anymore, our noses are buried in a machine!

    Most people spend their entire youth trying get out from under having to "report" to someone else-- why would anyone want to subject themselves to this constant punishment other than to get more attention that they can't get otherwise?

    ::Proceeding to next article on ZDNet::

    • You're missing something

      The caliber of people on Twitter right now is very high. There is fascinating, intelligent discussion of trends, news and so on. Dig deeper into it, and you may discover something of value for yourself.
  • US Gov Policy

    When I attempt to access Twitter from a government computer I get the following warning: SmartFilter Denied - Your request was denied because of its content categorization: "Dating/Social". OK, fine. So then I go (a twitter client for the iphone, but a work around to the filter) and it did work, but I get the pop-up telling me this site "is currently under review."

    It's odd because the network administrators are crippling access to information, when in reality existing policies (like the aforementioned "media" policy) actually should be adequate. Particularly for the military where one can be literally punished with career implications for releasing information without proper consent.

    I completely agree with the "instant" analyst theory. Foreign governments do this all the time - that is taking disparate pieces of information and putting them together into actionable intelligence.

    So, why shut down Twitter with such a stringent policy? Probably to stop work time "goofing off" vs actually being concerned about OPSEC or IA reasons. The trade-off is not having a great resource - for instance I get news from Twitter from BreakingNewsOn.

    BTW, this is being typed from a non-government computer at a commercial facility.
  • RE: Twitter is dangerous

    Of course, since people can tweet via SMS (as I sometimes do) even blocking it on your network won't help. Even the simplest phone can write tweets if it can send text messages
  • RE: Twitter is dangerous

    I don't see Twitter as dangerous. I write a blog about identity theft, data breaches, and corporate responsibility. There are so many other threats to corporate data security. For the full explanation of why I don't see Twitter as dangerous, see this post at my blog:

    George Jenkins