Image by luc legay via Flickr
Recently, The Des Moines Register reported that the Iowa DOT (Department of Transportation) blocked the use of Twitter, MySpace, Facebook and other social media applications among its employees, citing security concerns.
So, how unsafe are social networks, anyway? In my opinion, social technology is no more or less safe that any online destination and function (Web sites, e-mail, et cetera).
As an individual user, there are many precautions you can take, including using a safe browser: Firefox and Chrome get high marks for their advanced safety features, while Internet Explorer is frequently full of holes and security exploits.
You should also have some form of security software on your desktop machine or laptop that scans for viruses, malware, spyware and phishing apps once every 24 hours.
Thirdly, and probably most importantly, have some common sense. Don't click on anything that looks suspicious sent from someone you don't know, whether it comes to you in the form of an e-mail message, a tweet or a Facebook post.
Now, to the other issue, is the Iowa DOT really concerned about security issues, or is this a smokescreen to ensure that employees remain productive? I truly believe social networks (when used properly) can enhance a business or organization, and blocking them may simply result in missed opportunities.
Security and productivity should be addressed, in my view, with proper educational training, internal policies and employee culture. It's up to each individual company to talk to their employees about what goes and what doesn't go.
In the Iowa DOT's case, I'd recommend keeping these applications open for marketing and communications staff as a start. These are the people who will need to make use of social media tools and channels right now. Other employees, especially those on machines with access to sensitive data such as social security numbers, can remain closed-off and perhaps activated on an as-needed basis.
For a good analysis of what an internal social media usage policy might look like, here's a Mashable article on the topic
including examples from Ford and Zappos.com.