When User Policy Fails: Anonymous Twitter Account Ends Career

    IT Business Edge’s approach to user policy creation, for social media use or almost anything else, comes from an optimistic philosophy: Policies work when users are educated, informed and trusted to keep the organization’s best interests front of mind. The balancing act of user policies and technological controls works precisely, in fact, because employees primarily want to get their tasks completed without causing problems for their colleagues or anyone else.

    And then today, comes a prominent story of one of the ones who didn’t exactly operate that way. A national security adviser with security clearances, Jofi Joseph, was fired today from his director post at the National Security Council, according to the Voice of America. The action was taken after an investigation revealed that Joseph was behind an anonymous Twitter account, @natsecwonk, which had been blasting out sharp criticisms of White House staff and U.S. foreign policy positions.

    In explanation, Joseph wrote in an email today to Politico: “What started out as an intended parody account of DC culture developed over time into a series of inappropriate and mean-spirited comments.  I bear complete responsibility for this affair and I sincerely apologize to everyone I insulted.”

    Politico explains further that Joseph has had his security clearances stripped, and it is believed that he may be behind another anonymous Twitter account, this one mixing tweets about sexual encounters and State Department-related information.

    In a piece at the Christian Science Monitor, staff writer Peter Grier asks and tries to answer the question: What was he thinking? Not only did Joseph lose his current position, but he was apparently about to receive a promotion. And while his statements today quickly claimed responsibility and remorse for his unauthorized social media activity, the harshness of the series of tweets he sent out, going back to 2011, had been generating rumors for years about who the angry Tweeter was. The longer the feed was active, the more White House staff must have wanted to discover the identity behind it. And the riskier the behavior became for the employee.

    The details in the tweets, while not covering “classified or highly sensitive” information, according to The Washington Post, contained clues that led many to understand that they were coming from someone with some sort of White House access, and perhaps came from an internal staff member.

    Fake and snarky Twitter feeds, blogs and comments are fun and can even provide thought-provoking commentary from knowledgeable insiders. Joseph’s explanation that that describes his initial intent may have a bit of truth to it. But if so, he quickly lost his way and brought negative attention and perhaps harm to his colleagues and organization — that organization being the United States government. The larger lesson is a reminder that user policies are meant to be updated, and this is a great time to revisit social media use policies. Do they explicitly address activity not conducted clearly under the employee’s name? Do they need to? Do employees understand that if they feel they’ve found a “gray area” in the policy, the better course is to ask for guidance rather than risk going rogue and losing their position?

    For examples of social media policies, for Twitter use and more, check out these IT Downloads, which are free and ready for you to update for your organization’s requirements:

    Social Web Employee Policy

    Blogging and Microblogging Guidelines Template

    Social Media Content Guidelines

    Guidelines for Participation in Online Communities


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