With the Iranian Election protests and the Big Brother governmental control of China, we are familiar with some of the bans of social networking around the globe. But what about in our own backyard? Why are some organizations and corporations choosing to block sites like Twitter and Facebook right here in the US? This is a list of the top five bans that exist today in the land of the free and the home of the brave.
1- US Marine CorpsIn an unprecedented move, the USMC banned the use of social networking sites on all Marine Corps' owned PCs and computer networks. According to the Corps, blocking the use of Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter will help eliminate the possibility of security breaches the Marines must deal with regarding unclassified computers.
"These Internet sites in general are a proven haven for malicious actors and content and are particularly high risk due to information exposure, user-generated content and targeting by adversaries,” according to a memo published on the official Marines web site. “The very nature of social-networking sites creates a larger attack and exploitation window, exposes unnecessary information to adversaries and provides an easy conduit for information leakage,” which may lead to additional security risks.
It's an interesting move, especially considering each military branch has embraced social networking as a viable tool to help reach new recruits, inform the public, and easily communicate with one another. For example, General David Petraeus, who is in charge of the U.S. Central Command, has almost 7,000 Facebook fans, while Admiral Mike Mullen, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, has more than 5,100 users on Twitter.
The Pentagon hasn't banned social networking on work computers yet, but it's possible similar rules will be put into place before 2010. Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn's mandatory investigation into the pros and cons of social networking -- expected to be finished before the end of August -- will look into the ways the DoD can utilize social networking, while hopefully avoiding its pitfalls.
2- ESPNThe ESPN sports network has apparently banned its workforce from posting any sports-related content on social-networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook without its permission. The news first came to light August 4 when Ric Bucher, an NBA analyst for ESPN, tweeted that he had just received an network memo regarding tweeting:
As a public opinion safety net, ESPN retreated somewhat from a total ban by telling its employees that it is "currently building and testing modules designed to publish Twitter and Facebook entries simultaneously" on ESPN Web sites and mobile platforms, and it plans to roll out the modules this fall.
3- NFLWhile the NFL doesn't presently have a policy on the use of social media sites, officials did tell The New York Times they are working on one, hoping to ban their use during game days. However, many individual coaches are taking the matter into their own hands and instituting rules this season. Sure, fans love to read tweets from their favorite players, but in a league where every bit of game play information is closely guarded, coaches are trying to control the social media playing field.
Coaches did not have to look far to demonstrate the reasoning for their concern. After Minnesota Viking's quarterback Tarvaris Jackson sprained a knee ligament in a recent practice, his teammate Bernard Berrian tweeted that he was out for the season. Berrian later said that he was joking, and that Jackson was expected to miss only a few practices. However, this did not dissuade an angry fan from chastising Berrain for his 'slip of the tweet!'
Angry tweet from NFL fan
4- J.CrewAn internal document revealed that employees of J. Crew are not allowed to blog at work nor engage on social networks. The memo indicted that "any other form of posting information on the Internet, such as postings on a personal web site, business networking, social networking or affinity web site, on a bulletin board, or in a chat room," was not allowed.
In a recent request for clarification by the company, J.Crew's Senior Director of PR Heather Lynch McAuliffe, she responded with the following statement:
- "The information that you obtained is proprietary internal company information that was provided without authorization and unfortunately we can not comment on it."
While J. Crew does maintain its own Twitter account and currently has attracted 1447 followers at the time of this posting, its use of the microblogging site appears to be a a perfunctory feed that provides company updates with no apparent interaction with its clientele 'followers'.
As noted in the most current status update, J.Crew apparently also maintains a presence on Facebook. So I guess what is good for the goose, is not good for the gander!
5- Financial Institutions
The current economic climate of the US might have something to do with why some financial institutions are choosing to ban social networks. But going back as far as 2007, LloydsTSB, Credit Suisse, and Goldman Sachs were among the first companies reported to have blocked employees from visiting Facebook.
According to Sophos,developer and vendor of security software,a large number of Facebook profile pages contain users' current employment details, which could be used to infiltrate company networks. Recently, Sophos published research showing that 41 percent of Facebook users were prepared to divulge personal information to a complete stranger. For a financial institution, in addition to how these companies conduct themselves in today's economic environment, inside trading is also a fear that many think social networks can open the door to (as is evidenced by this questionable Twitter account who goes by the handle off @insidetrading.
"Companies are split on the question of Facebook. Some believe it to be a procrastinator's paradise which can lead to identity theft if users are careless. Others either view it as a valuable networking tool for workers or are too nervous of employees backlash if the site is suddenly blocked," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos.
In a recent survey, Sophos conducted with 700+ people the following reasons were determined as to why some companies and organizations choose to ban social networks. The results indicate 'lack of control' and 'productivity' as the top two factors.
The issue of social networking bans is a delicate balance between the transparency required by Web 2.0 followers versus the privacy restrictions of some organizations. As an example of the sensitivity to this issue, in August, the White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs announced at a press briefing that Twitter was banned on computers at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
This was a jolt to the Twittersphere who had all witnessed how important social media was to Obama's presidential campaign. The statement by Gibbs was retracted by deputy press secretary Bill Burton a couple of days later. Burton indicated that Gibbs may have been 'confused' as the White House staffers were not banned from having personal Twitter accounts. So much for everyone in the Administration being on the same page!
So what do you think about banning social networks by companies and organizations like the ones noted here? Is there a point where censorship is necessary to protect the greater good? Or is blocking social media today's version of burning books? If you feel strongly about this issue, please take our survey poll and provide us with your feedback in the comment section below.