Submitted for your consideration, three pieces of news from the last week or so:
Maryland Department of Corrections subjects job applicant to a social media strip search by making him turn over his Facebook login and password.
New Jersey Police Chief offers tips and advice to parents on how to hack into their kids' social media accounts, to snoop and spy, sort of the 21st century equivalent of reading their diaries, (man, that is an old fashioned reference, does any kid keep a diary anymore?).
Spanish nun who had served for over 35 years expelled from her order due to 'Too much Facebook.'
While the three stories all have social networking in common, specifically Facebook (aside, are we getting close to Facebook becoming the generic term for 'social networking', like 'Kleenex' now essentially means any facial tissue?), this post really isn't about Facebook at all.
To focus too much on how organizations, be they public or private, approach and adapt to Facebook, Twitter, and whatever comes next is, I think, to take too narrow a view of what is important and common about the above three situations.
It is sadly for leaders and institutions of limited courage and vision a short and straight path from the unfamiliar to the scary. What they don't understand, what they can't reference in a policy or by past experience, what in their narrow world view seems at all out of the ordinary can quickly evoke feelings of discomfort, angst, anger, and in the cases we see above, result in seemingly irrational reactions.
Yesterday I posted about trust, or at least a form of trust. I more or less said that external measures of influence can only be guides at best, and that ultimately the value and influence one exerts upon you is a highly variable, highly personal evaluation. And I think we all can kind of agree on that, at least in theory. 'Trusting' an algorithm to give you sound advice that is to be used as a meaningful measure inside organizations does seem like too much of a stretch. We love our machines, but we are not quite ready to trust them. Even you Watson.
But in the cases above, trust between people is lacking, and in the kinds of relationships we would normally expect trust to be assumed, a given, and only to be withdrawn in the case of some kind of egregious action. A long time employee attempting to obtain a better role in the organization, a public safety official (who we ought to be able to trust), advising parents to spy on their kids (who the parents ought to be able to trust), to finally, of all things, a nun who somehow ran afoul of her order by discovering a new way to spread the good word.
I don't want to be too hard on institutions and their leaders, often challenged by a flood of new tools, technologies, and issues that they simply can't process quickly enough to adequately address in their customary manner. It has to be difficult for the Mother Superior of the 'Facebook nun' to know just what exactly she should do.
But in these cases the leaders, the decision makers might be absolved from nuanced understanding of this new world, they are not absolved from retreating immediately to a position of fear and mistrust.
The unfamiliar might indeed be scary, but people are still people, and by placing your trust in those that you know you have earned that trust, the unfamiliar becomes less scary, and more exciting.