Entries from August 2010 ↓

The illusion of security vs. building community

Pretty much everyone in the healthcare world is buzzing over a Los Angeles Times story from earlier this week that superficially made a strong case for blocking hospital employee access to Facebook.

The article, by Times reporter Molly Hennessy-Fiske, chronicled the case of 60-year-old William Wells, who died at St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach, California, where he was brought after suffering severe knife wounds inflicted by a fellow resident of his nursing home.

Instead of focusing on treating him, an employee said, St. Mary nurses and other hospital staff did the unthinkable: They snapped photos of the dying man and posted them on Facebook.

The article chronciles a number of incidents at other hospitals involving staff violating patient privacy (and HIPAA) on Facebook, along with the fates of the nurses who posted the information (several were fired). The article has inspired conversation in the healthcare community about the need to block employee access to Facebook.

It’s a kneejerk reaction. After all, before social media, it was just as easy to share inappropriate, confidential information via email. (And, at one point in the early 1990s, organizations everywhere resisted the use of email for exactly that reason.)

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center President and CEO Paul Levy has written perhaps the best analysis of the St. Mary case and the resulting flurry of blocking commentary. Levy’s excellent post concludes:

If you block Facebook on the hospital server, will it nonetheless be used in the wrong way by misguided people? Yes. They will use their iPhones or some other such handheld devices.

I know this sounds like the pro-gun argument, “Guns don’t kill people. People do.” However you might feel about that issue, this one is different. By blocking this medium on your hospital server, you will remove a highly effective communications tool, all because you are fearful that a few misguided people will misuse it. You trade theĀ illusion of security for a loss of community.

In an earlier post dating back to October 2009, Levy also noted that blocking Facebook creates “a generational gap, in that Facebook, in particular, is often the medium of choice for people of a certain age. I often get many useful suggestions from staff in their 20’s and 30’s who tend not to use email.”

I’m currently reading a book, “The 2020 Workplace,” which delves deeply into the work habits and expectations of the Millennial Generation (born between 1977 and 1997); indeed, email is viewed (correctly) as an inefficient means of communication given more effective tools. As your Millennial kids how much they use email.

Blaming Facebook (or MySpace or Twitter or what-have-you) for human behavior that can be practiced with email, Usenet news groups, the telephone or in the elevator is not only misguided; it turns a blind eye to the more effective channels for communication that can actually improve communication in your institution. If you remember policies banning email in your organization in the early 90s, it’s easy to see today’s blocking policies as a failure to learn from mistakes made a mere 20 years ago.

The entire post is worth a careful reading, especially if your organization is on the brink of blocking staff access with the deluded expectation that it’ll solve a problem the roots of which have nothing at all to do with Facebook.

Why can’t business behave more like the U.S. military?

I continue to be impressed with the way the US Department of Defense (DoDis handling staff use of social media. As most organizations continue to succumb to the FUD factor by blocking employee access, the DoD recognizes the importance of online engagement by staff at all levels — from Pentagon workers to soldiers in the field.

If ever an organization was security-conscious, it’s the DoD. Yet they’ve managed to address security concerns while trusting hundreds of thousands of members of the organization to represent the DoD well in social forums.

A Social Media Hub has been added to the DoD’s arsenal of social media tools — another approach from which mainstream business can learn. While the DoD hub is accessible to the general public, it would be equally easy to create something like this on a corporate intranet as a resource for employees.

The home page of the hub proclaims, “ocial media is an integral part of Department of Defense operations. This site is designed to help the DoD community use social media and other internet-based capabilities to share responsibly and effectively, both in official and unofficial capacities.”

The site offers three core categories of information:

  • Learning and Resources — “I’m concerned about social media and I need…” reads the introduction to this section, which leads to education and training resources, social media guides and examples.
  • Policies and Procedures — This section begins with “I manage an official DoD social media presence and I want to…” which directs visitors to policies, user agreements and a form to register a page with the DoD.
  • Collaborate and Connect — “I have questions about social media,” reads the introduction to this section, “and I want to…” Visitors can access discussion forums, FAQs and an Ask the Experts section (a contact form).

The page includes many of the elements more commonly seen on inidividuals’ social media channels, like retweet and Facebook share buttons. The site walks the talk in other ways, such as the embedding of SlideShare presentations in the Examples section.

Access to resources like this can reinforce policies and training and raise the confidence of employees who know they have somewhere to go where they can not only review the rules but ask questions, view case studies and have conversations with others in the organization.

Once again, I’m left wondering: Why can a command and control-centric organization like the US military take such a rational approach to social media while the average US corporation behaves more like we’d expect the military to behave?

(Cross-posted from a shel of my former self.)