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What Do the ESPN Sex Scandal, Blogging Responsibility, and Facebook Risk Have in Common?

Thursday, October 22, 2009 , Posted by Christopher Byrne at 9:31 AM, under , , , , ,

Note: This was originally published on "The Business Controls Caddy" this morning.That is a site where I write about business process control and information technology risks, including the proper use and management of social software and social networking sites, and the business risks associated with them.

I know that most readers of this site are not into sports. That is one of the reasons Bob Costas fell flat at Lotusphere a couple of years ago. But there is a firestorm that has erupted in the sports media industry that is, unfortunately, going to turn into a perfect case study covering what bloggers write about and how people reveal too much about themselves and their families on social media sites such as Facebook and with Social media tools like Twitter.

So what is going on and why should it matter to you, your families, and your companies/organizations? And this does get a bit tawdry, so be advised it may not be safe for work.

Steve Phillips is a former General Manager of the New York Mets and currently a baseball analyst for ESPN. He lost his job with the Mets because of , among other things, a plethora of sexual harassment complaints and a successful lawsuit in the matter. In the past day or so, the New York Post revealed that he had a fling with an ESPN production assistant that turned into a real life "Fatal Attraction" for him and his family. Following this story, A.J. Daulerio, editor of the hugely popular but often unsavory blog Deadspin, decided that he was angry that the New York Post published an attention-getting story that he asked ESPN about well over a month ago.

So Daulerio threw a hissy fit and started publishing allegations of sexual misconduct by specific employees, including a corporate vice-president. The goal was to challenge ESPN to make a statement so he would shut up. Unfortunately, these allegations were not based in fact but on emails he said he has received from ESPN employees. This whole scandal escalation/playground fight resulted in Deadspin supposedly getting over 1,000,000 site visits in the past day and a half or so. It has also made life a living hell for for ESPN media relations staff, executives, and employees. Reportedly, albeit from Deadspin, it led to an emergency meeting at 6:00 PM last night at ESPN.

Daulerio has now not only succeeded in hurting and humiliating some not so very public figures and their families, he has successfully thrown the blogging community under the bus in his personal vendetta. Too many bloggers out there work hard to build a credible voice and offer real value  through their sites. We are lucky in the IBM Lotus Software community in that we understand our responsibility as bloggers and as community members. I credit this to that fact that we have long understood the power of collaboration and information sharing, whether that power be good and/or poorly used.

This incident should be a warning shot across everyone's bow that we should continue to do the right thing. Even more so, it should make us think twice about how much personal and business information we reveal on our blogs, on social networking sites like Facebook, and with social networking tools like Twitter.

I have often just shaken my head when I see things that my friends, colleagues, and neighbors put on Twitter, Facebook and even their blogs. I see information about their families and work that on their face have no place in a publicly accessible space. Do you need to tell the world that you and your family are going away for a week, opening doors for the bad guys to take advantage of the information? Do you need to tweet about a proposal you are writing for a competitive contract, letting your competition know you are going against them (yes this really happened in the Lotus Community)?

It is one thing to share this information on your social networking sites if the only people who can see them are your close friends and family. But if you look at your "friends" list on Facebook, how many of these people do you really know? I show well over 500 friends, but a great many of these are business contacts I use for marketing purposes. Do I want them to see everything I write?

Have you set your security to limit who can see  what about you and your friends? Do you really know that people are who they say they are when they ask you to friend them?

This is where we get back to the Steve Phillips case, and where the following links may make you feel uncomfortable. They are the statements given to the police by Phillips' wife and son. The other woman in this scenario wrote a letter to Phillips wife with all kinds of details about their lives, family and marriage. She claimed that these things are all things that Phillips shared with her.

But it turns out he did not. The reality is that she created a fake account on Facebook posing as a teenager and friending Phillips' son, using the pretext that she was in his Spanish class the year before. She then went on to engage him, finding out all kinds of details about his family life and his parents marital situation to use in the letter to his mother. She also got him to reveal his home phone number and she started to call his mother with anonymous "tips"  about what his father was doing.

The statement of Phillips' wife

The statement of Phillips' son

In all this has made for a very uncomfortable situation around the board. Phillips has been suspended for a week, and has subsequently taken an indefinite leave of absence. ESPN is facing a huge situation of crisis and reputation/brand management. Yet the production assistant still has her job. She has not shut down any of her social media sites on LinkedIn, Facebook, or MySpace.

So if this does not give you pause to think about how you use social media, and the potential impacts on you, your families, and your employers, what will?

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