Cureton: Time to face your Facebook phobia

Social networking is fine for government leaders, but take some common-sense precautions

Some have suggested that I seem to navigate the Facebook’s social networking world effortlessly. It might appear that way, but the apparent ease and comfort is an intentional work in progress.

I have never been one for networking of any kind, so I wasn’t really thrilled at the prospect of jumping into the world of social networking. However, as I aspired to the ranks of the federal government’s Senior Executive Service, I realized that building coalitions and developing an extensive network of associates helps us collaborate and share best practices and provides for the flow of diverse ideas and diverse thinking.

Here are some common questions and answers that might help those suffering from Facebook Phobia.

Don’t you think it’s better to keep your personal life separate from your professional life?

Picture this: You’re at a professional conference during a networking opportunity. Someone asks about your hobbies. Do you say, “I’m sorry, but I keep my personal life and professional life separate,” and refuse to answer?

You wouldn’t tell private or embarrassing information to a colleague at a water cooler or at a networking session, and you shouldn’t do it on Facebook. You can reveal some personal information on Facebook, but exercise the same judgment and discretion you do in in-person encounters.

As with real-life networking, you should be genuine, honest and interested in those in your social network. Look for things you have in common and make comments that demonstrate sincere interest.

What about security? Aren’t you worried about it?

Heck yes, you should be worried about security. Who isn’t? You should always be vigilant about sharing information inappropriately or being a victim of malicious code. There’s nothing special about social-networking technology. You should be just as cautious on Facebook as you would be with e-mail.

I once had a Super Bowl party where my mother had a hot dog on a plate. As she put chili on the hot dog, the plate collapsed, dropping hot dog and chili on the light-colored carpet. She said it was the plate’s fault. Many people would blame the plate — or the technology — rather than taking appropriate measures that are commensurate with the risk.

Every respectable IT professional needs to worry about IT security. Whether information is coming out of your mouth or on your friend feed, information needs to be safeguarded accordingly. Just keep it simple. Don’t try to be fancy and cute. Be careful about hooking up applications to your profile unless you know how they are going to behave.

Don’t I have to worry about my reputation?

In real-life networking, you don’t do anything stupid that you might regret. Don’t do it on Facebook either.

Be intentional about personal branding. Who am I? Who is my audience? I am wife, daughter, sister, friend, sister-in-law, teacher, CIO, executive … all of these in totality. My branding encompasses all of these — from roles and responsibilities in an IT organization to baking sweet potato crescent rolls.

I hope some of these answers will help those who would like to recover from Facebook Phobia.

About the Author

Linda Y. Cureton was appointed as Chief Information Officer (CIO) for NASA in September 2009 and has overseen the transformation of information technology (IT) capabilities and services supporting NASA's mission for the past two years. Previously, Ms. Cureton served as CIO of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) and Deputy Chief Information Officer of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) and led the Office of Science and Technology as Deputy Assistant Director.

She also served in executive positions at the Department of Energy and the Department of Justice and has been involved with organizations such as the Government Information Technology Investment Council, the American Council for Technology, and Women in Technology. She currently serves as Co-Chair of the Federal CIO Council Committee on Architecture and Infrastructure.

Ms. Cureton earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mathematics from Howard University graduating magna cum laude and a Master of Science Degree in Applied Mathematics from Johns Hopkins University. She also has a Post-Master's Advanced Certificate in Applied Mathematics from Johns Hopkins University and has performed numerical analysis research published in the "Journal of Sound and Vibration."

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Reader comments

Tue, Apr 21, 2009

Facebook and tweeting are (1) too much information and (2) so much Me! Me! Me! Me!

Fri, Apr 17, 2009

I would point out that in the "Picture this:" example, you might be willing to discuss some of your hobbies at a professional conference, but you would not have your kids or spouse get involved, or your old college roommate, or some new acquaintance from the gym. On the social network, you very possibly will. As for security, you should be more cautious than with e-mail, as all gov e-mail servers (should definitely) have strict filters, while a social network site is a 3rd party uncontrolled unknown.

Thu, Apr 16, 2009 donna hawthorne

Social Media is part of the new media. It is not a fad. It is a tool. And I will use every tool -- medium -- to do my job, whether that is an old-school brochure, or posting notifications on Twitter or Facebook. In fact, posting the messages on the latter is a whole lot less expensive for taxpayers than a glossy, resource-intensive brochure that ends up in the waste pile! Anyone saying it's inappropriate for government, I ask you to really examine it before you reject it outright!

Wed, Apr 15, 2009 Editor

Editor's note: FCW will be adding a tool for sharing via Facebook. Stay tuned.

Wed, Apr 15, 2009 interpreter the field

I have to disagree strongly with the first response-taxpayers expect me to do the best job I can do-part of my job is to reach out to young people-if my IT system is stuck in the 20th century I can't do that efficiently-social networks are where my outreach needs to be-if i can't use them I'm not doing my job as well or as efficiently as i should be able to!

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