Policing social media is down to trust

Before we go any further do you have a good first aider close by? Preferably one with defibrillators. Right, let’s continue. Do your staff have access to social media through your network? Are you still OK? No chest pains? Feeling faint? Good.

For some reason the whole concept of employees having access to the likes of Facebook and Twitter through the company seems to be very divisive and tends to split IT chiefs down the middle. On the one hand there are those who feel that social media is a time waster with security implications; in the other camp people see it as a perk that keeps workers happy and shows the company to be an enlightened and trusting employer.

In the UK the latter approach was taken in probably one of the most sensitive public sector organisations possible – law enforcement. Before the current Deputy Chief Constable Stuart Hyde of Cumbria Constabulary joined the force, Internet access was available to a privileged few and heavily monitored, maybe justifiably so as one of the gatekeepers told me they had caught one employee trying to access sites dealing with necrophilia! I think that individual reached a dead end as far as Internet access was concerned!

So why the change of heart? DCC Hyde explains:

“Quite simply this is about trust. I trust my staff with guns, fast cars, batons, CS gas and powers to seriously disrupt a citizen’s life. Facebook pales into insignificance against these. I also recognise the value that access to Internet and social media can have. Even simple issues such as Google Earth, the BBC or police orientated sites such as polcyb make life easier.”

So what was the initial reaction and how has it panned out over time?

“At first there was an assumption that as soon as we went live people would rush to do Facebook and it would block the system then staff would never leave the building. The reality was that for the first 15 minutes it went crazy; mostly people seeing if it was true and what they could do. After that it settled down and is at a consistent pace. At the moment, despite the odd peak and fall I am happy with use.

But DCC Hyde is realistic about the downside. Has there been abuse?

“Yes, but early on we made it clear that we would monitor the use and we have done that. Occasionally an individual has had to be spoken to or even a team, but so far I have not formally had to discipline people for excessive use. Linked with the open access policy is another policy that treats all discipline with proportionate responses, so a warning rather than formal processing every time has built trust and saved the investigative resources for more damaging issues such as information leakage or fraud.”

Has opening the net up to social media helped the force?

“Yes, we have a library of good practice. We have operational staff using access to resolve real time issues, ranging from finding people, property or locations through to finding out about events that may cause problems. It’s not perfect but much better than before. In fact we found one group who we thought we over using but in fact their usage was very valuable and it demonstrated how much they had needed it for their day job.”

It is interesting that as we enter the age of cloud computing etc that we come back to that one vital concept – trust. Let’s not be naive and believe that there will not be individuals who will abuse that trust. But these are the same individuals that are probably abusing company assets, time and resources anyway but currently in a non-techy manner.

By accentuating the positive and putting trust in people not only is there the possibility that you may discover an untapped spring of benefits to your organisation but you will quickly pick up the mickey takers and the organization can take steps to discipline or remove them.

Kevin Tea is a journalist and marketing communications professional who has worked for some of the leading blue chip companies in the UK and Europe. In the 1990s he became interested in how emerging Internet-based technologies could change the way that people worked and became an administrator on the Telework Europa Forum on CompuServe. With other colleagues he took part in a four year European Commission sponsored project to look at the way that the Internet could benefit remote communities. His blog is a resource for SMEs who want to use cloud computing and Web 2.0 technologies.