Social networking: blocking employees’ access isn’t sustainable

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An interesting Gartner press release from last week — “Gartner Says by Year-End 2013, Half of All Companies Will Have Been Asked to Produce Material from Social Media Websites for E-Discovery” — references a recent piece of research, authored by analyst Debra Logan, and published during December of 2010.

Not sure why they’re just getting around to promoting that report now, but it’s an interesting piece (Gartner subscribers can access a full copy of Social Media Governance: An Ounce of Prevention at http://www.gartner.com/resId=1498916. Many of the most interesting points in the full document are actually made in the press release. These include:

1. Social media content isn’t special when it comes to eDiscovery: Says analyst Debra Logan, “Social media content is like all other content that is created by companies and individuals and is subject to the same rules, laws and customs.” So, just as with email, companies will need to be able to quickly discover and produce social media content in response to legal or regulatory discovery requests.

“In e-discovery, there is no difference between social media and electronic or even paper artifacts. The phrase to remember is ‘if it exists, it is discoverable’,” says Logan.

2. Keep social media policies simple and consistent: On the topic of policies, Logan suggests that, “Policymakers need to keep policies simple when it comes to what should and should not be done online. A good rule of thumb is that whatever the company code of conduct is for in-person encounters, and whatever the rules are for general good behavior and common sense, apply in the online world as well.”

Additionally, Logan notes that the “legal landscape” around social media remains in flux due to “overlapping, conflicting and contradictory laws and regulations.” Because there is no clear guidance, “the safest option is to have a consistent policy and apply it consistently.”

3. In the absence of technology controls, banning access might be appropriate: Says Logan, “If… a technology creates content that cannot be captured for archival purposes and that archive is required by law, then the organization must tell employees… not to use the technology, even unofficially.” Gartner’s press release also notes that Gartner estimates that, by the end of 2012, 50% of companies will attempt to block access to some or all social networking sites.

Of course, the problem with banning or blocking employee access to social media sites is that one is sacrificing the many benefits of social media in favor of security and compliance. As a result, many employees will attempt to “work around” such blocks and restrictions. Over time, such situations won’t be sustainable.

But the good news is that the technology to monitor, enforce compliance rules and retain/archive social media content actually exists today and is getting easier and less costly to deploy.

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Keith Crosley directs corporate communications for Proofpoint. Keith’s job entails the promotion of Proofpoint e-mail security solutions to press, analysts and the enterprise e-mail security market at large. His blog covers a wide variety of e-mail security topics including anti-spam, phishing, identity theft, data breaches and the policy, culture and technology issues that surround e-mail. Previous positions have included director, corporate communications at Elance, senior director, worldwide public relations at BroadVision and director of marketing at WiredPlanet.com. As a key spokesperson for Proofpoint and e-mail security evangelist/researcher, he takes part in television and radio appearances. Avocationally and semi-professionally, he is a filmmaker, musician and all-round multimedia enthusiast.