The Mixed Bag Influence of Twitter

This is not a tirade against Twitter. Twitter is a thing. Like cars, guns, a printing press, the Internet or any other thing, it’s inanimate and, by definition, cannot be either good or bad. Only the use to which it is put can be good or bad. So, when you read “Twitter” in the following, read it as “the use of Twitter”.

On the positive side, Twitter is a good thing because it enables distribution of news, ideas, etc. to a wide audience. It enables learning from bright people in a way that probably would not be possible in any other way. In my role as an industry analyst, I find Twitter to be incredibly useful for discovering ideas, learning about news, and following smart people that would be more difficult to do in other ways, and to be able share news and other information with an audience that would be almost impossible to reach some through other media.

But there are three fundamentally negative aspects to Twitter that largely negate much of the positive that it brings:

  • Almost every problem is multi-dimensional. Whether it’s homelessness, Hong Kong, the national debt, armed conflict, data breaches or any other issue, it’s rarely one thing that can be identified as the cause. Instead, problems normally are the result of many causes, each of which contributes to the problem in varying degrees. However, when someone takes to Twitter to discuss a problem or convey information, they’re limited to a maximum of 280 characters and so can rarely discuss more than one thing. If we assume that the average word is just five characters plus the following space, that’s a maximum of about 47 words to discuss the issue – and very few issues can be discussed with any degree of depth in 47 words. The result is that discussion of important issues gets reduced to sound bites, not substantive discussion or analysis. That fits nicely with the decreasing length of the typical attention span, but it makes for poor decision making.
  • Like any form of electronic communication, the remote nature of correspondence on Twitter eliminates the consequences associated with rude behavior. Hurl an insult in-person and you run the risk of getting punched in the nose – do so on Twitter and there will rarely be a consequence other than receiving an insult in return. In short, the social consequences of rudeness all but disappear in the Twittersphere.
  • Finally, and perhaps most dangerous, is the strong tendency for decision makers to assume that the most vocal people on Twitter actually represent many more of the same mindset than they actually do. For example, in June 2018, Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey ordered food from Chick-fil-A®. He was called out for doing so by a number of people on Twitter and apologized for his behavior. An article in USA Today cited three tweets as part of the backlash – these tweets had a combined 318 “likes” in the nearly 19 months since they were published. By contrast, I estimate that Chick-fil-A serves approximately 4,600 customers per minute. Those who “like” a tweet – or care about the issue in any way – rarely are even the tiniest fraction of those who could not care less about the issue or disagree with it.

The last point is the most dangerous aspect of Twitter because it has enabled the rapid expansion of bullying. Bullying requires a) a bully who thinks they can harm their victims (of which there is no shortage on social media platforms, including Twitter) and b) someone who considers themselves vulnerable to harm. Consequently, it’s easy for tweeters to seem like they’re representing more people than they really are. However, only 22 percent of Americans use Twitter and only 10 percent of its users account for 80 percent of tweets. Tweeters really don’t represent much of the population, but decision makers – including those who apologize for having lunch at the “wrong” place – seem to think they do, and so fall victim to bullying tactics on a regular basis.

In short, Twitter is a fantastic platform for sharing information and learning, but it has serious downsides that negate much, if not all, of its positives.

 

Monitor Your Social Media Exposure

Social media is an amazingly useful tool to share meaningful information (along with lots of drivel, humblebrags and photos of that amazing breakfast your friends are about to eat in Cancun). However, the ease with which social media can be used as a vehicle for sharing good information enables users to share some really stupid things, as well. The most recent case in point is the (now former) CBS Vice President and senior counsel who posted some very insensitive comments on Facebook about the victims of the horrific shooting in Las Vegas earlier this week. In 2016 a (now former) faculty member of York University in Toronto posted links on Facebook to anti-Semitic web sites and made a number of derogatory comments about Jews. Also in 2016, a (now former) employee of Express Oil Change and Tire Engineers in Alabama posted on Facebook that the wildfire victims of Gatlinburg, Tennessee are, “….mouth-breathing, toothless, diabetic, cousin-humpin, mountain-dew-chuggin, moon-pie-munchin, pall-mall-smoking, trump-suckin pond scum.” In 2013, the (now former) communications chair of the Democratic Party of Sacramento County, California tweeted to the senior communications adviser to Ted Cruz, “May your children all die from debilitating, painful and incurable diseases”.

These types of posts represent a lack of self-control, something of which the vast majority of us are guilty at one time or another (but, hopefully, in less public ways). But they also represent a massive liability for a company’s brand. In each case, the offender was fired by his or her employer, but that does little to mitigate the enormous damage that these types of posts can inflict on the innocent employers who get caught up in the firestorm that normally ensues after these types of posts go viral.

As an employer, what can you do about this? Here are some suggestions:

  • First and foremost, establish detailed and thorough policies about what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable employee behavior, both during and after work hours. Obviously, an employer has less control over their employees when they’re not at work, but some reference to acting like a decent human being on a 24×7 basis while employed by the company is a good starting point.
  • To back up these policies, provide good training for employees about how to respond to social media posts, how to avoid making inappropriate comments on social media, and how to escalate sensitive issues like customer complaints.
  • Implement good monitoring, DLP and scanning technologies for all work-related systems, including social media. The goal is not only to identify intentionally inappropriate and mistaken posts from employees, but also to protect against data loss and malware infiltration through the social media channel, to identify if a social media account has been hacked, or to identify if someone is falsely purporting to be a representative of your company/brand.
  • Archive content from your social media channels, including any employee posts made using company infrastructure. Having a good archive of social media content will enable decision makers, counsel, etc. to review social media posts for inappropriate content after the fact, and can be useful as part of litigation efforts and regulatory audits.
  • For social media accounts under company control, enable appropriate access controls to minimize the potential for inappropriate posts.
  • Where necessary, implement a supervisory program (something akin to what financial services firms do for broker-dealers) that will sample employee social media posts to look for violations of corporate policy.

We will shortly be publishing a white paper and survey results focused on social media security and archiving. Let us know if you’d like to see an advance copy of the survey results or the paper.