About Women's Web
Tweet Breach: 140 Characters of Sheer Destruction
Like a wounded, cornered Doberman, I was irrational and reactive.
My blog was down, non-existent. When you earn your keep by communicating
ideas, like I do as a professional speaker, any threat to the distribution
of those ideas raises the peach fuzz on the back of your neck. After
days of being unable to reach my webmaster by office phone, cell phone,
SMS text, instant message or email, I dialed up the pressure on him
to respond. I turned to the powerful and influential world of social
I tweeted him. Publicly.
@johnswebguy Where in the name of Google Earth are you? Why
won't you contact me? [poetic license applied to save face]
140 characters that delivered the impact of a rabid canine. Yes, there
was obvious anger in my words, but they were transformed into a venomous
rant in the hands of others. Those reading it from the outside could
feel the rage I felt at having been cornered without a backup plan.
Unfortunately, in my anger, I didn't make it a direct tweet (a private
communication that only the recipient could see), so anyone following
these hyper-succinct mini-blogs could view my dirty laundry and fill
in the blanks with any back-story they liked. And fill in they did.
In the ensuing minutes, my tweet was re-tweeted (sent out to a mass
number of recipients), screen shot (digitally captured to be preserved
forever in all its glory) and used as an example as why others shouldn't
do business with my webmaster. I had never even considered ending my
relationship with my webmaster, so driving his customers away was the
last thing on my mind.
I just wanted to know where he was!
In that instant, dumbfounded with regret, I understood the power of
social media to communicate, influence and destroy. Destroy personal
reputations. Destroy brand identity. Destroy profit margins, relationships
and open communication. As I hit the enter button, I thought I was tossing
a snowball, but quickly discovered it had the potential to become an
all-out avalanche. For all of its brevity, the words we publish on Twitter
or Facebook can be misinterpreted, read as gospel or spread like the
plague. It can be very difficult to separate emotion from fact in 140
My webmaster contacted me from the hospital; he had just gotten out
of surgery. Fortunately, I deleted the tweet before it went totally
global, explained my mistake to my followers, apologized to my webmaster
and got down to resuscitating my blog (when he had recovered from surgery).
Explaining what I had done to someone the following day, I used a term
that has stuck in subsequent conversations—tweet breach. Here
is my current working definition of tweet breach:
tweet•breach n. 1. Accidentally
or intentionally exposing data through social media or other Web 2.0
applications (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Wikipedia, Second
Life, blog posts, webmail, text messaging, instant messaging, etc.)
that would otherwise have remained acceptably private, confidential,
anonymous or otherwise properly controlled by the owner or agent responsible
for the information. 2. Self-inflicted tweet breech
(common) is the act of accidentally or reactively releasing one's
own private information without thinking through the consequences.
- posting an individual's personally identifying information (phone
number, credit card account, social security number, etc.) without
their consent, knowledge and understanding;
- posting someone's physical whereabouts, personal history or confidential
information without their agreement;
- improperly revealing proprietary corporate information such as
intellectual capital, corporate financials, business processes,
deal secrets, organizational structure or other sensitive commercial
- improperly using social media as a tool of leverage, extortion
(if you don't do this, I will...), or revenge (posting sordid details
about your ex, dirty laundry about your former employer, etc.).
I learned so much as a product of my experience that it will provide
materials for years to come. Let me share a few of the many fundamental
takeaways that you should keep in mind both personally and professionally:
Posting is public. This seems so obvious, but
it is constantly overlooked. When you post (I use the term post
to encompass tweeting, blogging, commenting, writing on a wall,
publishing to a website, and certain types of texting, instant messaging,
etc.), you are making the information available to everyone on the
internet (unless you somehow restrict access).
In-person relationships are often subtle. For example, you probably
wouldn't tell the same joke to your young child as you would your
closest friend. You wouldn't tell your boss about a successful job
interview with another company in the same way that you would tell
your sister. But when you post these items online, you are collapsing
those layers of distinction, or access, into a one-dimensional view.
Everyone has equal and identical access to your joke and your job
news, whether you want them to or not.
Denial and misunderstanding of this basic principle, that posting
is public and will be seen by others, is what leads teenagers to
populate MySpace with pictures and content that they would never
want their future employers, college admissions officers or even
parents, to see.
Posting is permanent. When you post, you are
creating a permanent piece of digital DNA that, for all practical
purposes, never disappears. Your words and photos and videos are
forwarded, replicated, backed up, quoted and made a permanent part
of the internet firmament. In other words, if you post it, you'd
better be willing to claim ownership of it for the rest of your
life. It is very hard to think a week in advance, let alone 20 years.
Would George W. Bush have ever been President had he tweeted his
DUIs or possession of Cocaine arrest? The viral and permanent and
traceable nature of the information would have doomed his chances.
Posts are exploitable. Whether they are used
against you in a court of law (yes, posts have been used as admissible
evidence), used by identity thieves and social engineers (e.g.,
once a con knows your social network, they can easily use it against
you to establish undeserved trust), or aggregated by companies that
want to sell you something, posts can and will be used in ways that
we average users are not currently considering.
Without question, social media and social networking are killer apps
and are here for the long haul. They fulfill too deep a need and too
profitable a role in our lives and businesses to write off as a fad.
Fortunately, there are concrete solutions for preventing tweet breach
and for minimizing damage when it does inevitably happen. I am already
experiencing corporations (probably because of their increased risks
and liability) beginning to pro-act on the ever evolving side effects
of social media. For starters, they are gaining a competitive advantage
- Educating their workforce on the benefits and drawbacks of social
media, including tweet breach, productivity gains and losses, social
media exhaustion, etc.
- Establishing guidelines for how to use Twitter, Facebook and Web
2.0 tools in responsible, productive ways that deliver the greatest
ROI with the least risk
- Incorporating age-old ideas of etiquette, editorial policy and
discretion into the fabric of their new media strategies
To learn more about tweet breach and how to protect yourself or your
corporation, visit www.TweetBreach.com.
About the Author:
After losing his business to data breach and his reputation to identity
theft, John Sileo became America’s leading identity theft and
data breach speaker. His recent clients include the Department of Defense,
the FDIC, Blue Cross Blue Shield and Pfizer. To learn more about John,
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