[Disclosure: I applied for the University of Michigan Social Media Director position.]
In October of 2011, the University of Michigan announced that it had created a Social Media Director position. I was elated; it was a great sign that the practice was gaining the recognition it deserves. In February of 2012 they announced that after “dozens” of applicants (a suspiciously low number for that high-profile of a position with an elite school that paid $100k/year) they had selected Jordan Miller to be their new Social Media Director.
Flash-forward to December 7 when a post appeared on Reddit titled “UM Social Media Director Jordan Miller lies on resume about bachelors degree, keeps job.” posted by citizenthrowawayx. The post contained links to three scans of documents that pretty conclusively demonstrated that Miller had indeed lied on her job application claiming to have completed her studies at Columbia College in Chicago when in fact she had not.
There’s a lot more to the story (that the anonymous individual who did the legwork and posted the damning information is an ex-husband who happens to also work at U of M and who is involved in a custody battle, alleging that Miller manufactured child abuse allegations against him to negate his custody of their child) but I’m less interested in that than the larger ramifications of this case study in how not to approach social media.
Beat the Dead Horse: Radical Transparency
What I can’t get over is that someone would think they could get away with something like this in applying for (1) a social media leadership position at (2) one of the best universities in the US. Who thinks this sort of deception can last in such a position of scrutiny?
Forget unethical (although it’s certainly that), in the age of radical transparency duplicity is just plain impractical.
Here is just a sampling of the ripples Miller’s lying has sent off in the direction of everyone she’s had contact with:
U of M Human Resources: Why doesn’t the University of Michigan’s Human Resources Office vet the higher education credentials of its applicants? How many of the rest of the university’s employees are lacking in degrees from accredited higher education institutions? Why didn’t the HR department take action on this information when it was forwarded to them “a few weeks ago?” Why did it take contacting the university’s Compliance Hotline to get something accomplished?
Past Employers: Now that we know Miller lied on her U of M job application, does that mean that she lied on her application to the Ann Arbor News? As a journalistic organization that trumpeted her hire and is now reporting on her downfall – it’s incumbent upon them to now shine that same light on themselves and their hiring practices. How many of their other reporters are lacking in degrees from accredited colleges/universities? Why don’t they verify higher ed credentials? Ditto to Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, the advertising agency that employed her for a year and a half.
References: This kind of situation makes me less inclined to want to give out references or endorsements, which are becoming ever-present on social networking sites. You practically trip over them logging in to Linkedin, they’re on Facebook and its apps (like Branchout) and everywhere else.
Past Work: If Miller lied about something as substantial as her higher ed credentials, what else is lurking in her past? Has she fabricated any of the information in the stories she wrote for the AnnArbor.com?
Social Media Pros: Specializing in social media is already a profession that hurts for credibility. Here’s a comment from the story announcing Miller’s hire typical of the opinions of many people on social media:
“Wow. $100K per year to Twitter (aka “gossip”) and create seminars teaching other people how to Twitter (aka “gossip”). It’s too bad the UM doesn’t have any marketing students or anyone like that, who could devise and maintain “social media” strategies as part of their degree programs. What’s another $100K in taxpayer dollars anyway? It’s just disgusting. A hundred THOUSAND dollars a year. It’s incredible.” – YpsiVeteran
This act can’t help but contribute to the sentiment that social media pros are charlatans and hucksters. As a result, all of us suffer.
The Other Applicants for the Position: There were some other applicants for the position who were probably better-qualified than Miller (whose social media credentials I found to be surprisingly sparse – leading me to long suspect that there was some sort of backroom arrangement for the hiring process which is depressingly common at higher ed institutions). Forget me, Lindsay Blackwell comes to mind – even I was impressed by the multimedia site she set up to apply for the position. I worry that U of M will eliminate this position and kill a great opportunity for someone else (and an opportunity to show how far ahead of the business world the academic world is in terms of social media acumen).
The Silver Lining
Radical Transparency is here to stay. It is the norm. It is one of the rules of the ecosystem.
As we work to get past the social norms that are in conflict with this new reality, we can facilitate this by making use of all of the amazing computing power arrayed before us. There is value in verification – think of what Linkedin could do to further attract employers as a job posting website by offering the verification of credentials.
I’m not optimistic about the odds of it happening, but hopefully the human resources world takes this opportunity to reflect on how outmoded its conventions for vetting job applicants are. There are so many ways to measure the abilities of people online, and so few HR departments are flexing all of those resources.
Regardless, it’s going to be interesting to see how this all plays out (and it is literally playing out right now on Reddit as Miller’s ex-husband is able to respond to the questions and comments of other Redditors).
Online nothing goes away, and anything can come to light if enough time and pressure are applied.
George Zimmerman is about to find that out because the Miami Herald found his MySpace page. I’m kind of surprised this didn’t come to light sooner. In a bit of dark humor, he was just awarded the “In the Spotlight” badge because people are flocking to pore over his updates for clues.
We can’t undo the advances into the era of Radical Transparency, we can only adjust to it. That isn’t a bad thing.
Just as social media can have a negative impact on someone’s life, it can also have a positive impact. It depends on how much of a person is positive or negative.
Social media is only a tool – it has no inherent qualities. It can only reflect those who use it. The same social media platforms that are providing fodder to back up the allegation that the shooting of Trayvon Martin was a hate crime motivated by mistrust of a race are ALSO raising funds for Zimmerman’s defense fund and spreading the message of his fervent right-leaning defenders. Con artists on both sides of the case have faked content to support their side – and virtually all have been caught and debunked.
Right now the big headlines are the racist missives against Hispanics that the MySpace profile contains, as well as some allusions to criminal behavior.
That won’t be the only headline, and a fuller picture of Zimmerman is already being illustrated in the news media as we all endeavor to learn more about him and his motivations. The Herald noted that he has a racially-diverse group of friends (as depicted by his photos). Likely there are other positive features of Zimmerman which will come to light.
I tend to think anything that helps make us more aware that the world is a complex, gray place with few (if any) absolutes is a benefit to us all.
A sad note that marred an otherwise unseasonably-warm and dry week in Grand Rapids was the death of a blogger’s dog after a careless right turn by a man driving a truck who then left the scene (even though he later admitted to being aware that the distraught owner was trying to flag him down; I also refuse to believe he didn’t know he’d hit something).
The dog’s owner wrote a moving essay about the experience that has touched all of us. He also provided an example of forgiveness and compassion that I’ll think long and hard about for the rest of my life.
There were witnesses to the tragic accident and the reaction of the driver of the truck. As is increasingly the case, those witnesses had access to smartphones and tweeted what they had witnessed. One witness, who I’m proud to call a friend, took action and captured information about the truck and its driver. The truck was a work vehicle, so it was emblazoned with the name of the business – and the witness also managed to get (and tweet) the license plate. Read more…
While in Grad School I became familiar with the work of Norbert Weiner, originator of the theory of Cybernetics and a brilliant mathematician who contributed a great deal to numerous fields – only one of which is organizational leadership.
Aside from having a name that virtually guaranteed a career path involving MIT, Weiner is famous for a variety of things but my favorite is the approach he took when studying where to most effectively place armor on military aircraft: Read more…
I blogged previously about how the Missouri Senate had banned teachers contacting students through unapproved channels (like corresponding with them via personal email accounts not supervised by schools, or friending them on Facebook).
The law was problematic for a variety of reasons, but one thing that concerned me was the liklihood of a teacher violating it unintentionally given the ubiquity of electronically-mediated communication in everyday life. Read more…
Hey kid – would you put down those Foot Locker boxes and have a bit of a chin waggle for a minute?
Martin Luther King once said “a riot is the language of the unheard.” What’s burning up London right now is an unheard population, and while I can sympathize with the sentiment, the violence isn’t something that can be condoned and it’s utterly and completely daft. Here’s why:
- London is one of the most surveilled cities in the world (just behind Chicago). There are over 500,000 cameras throughout the city quietly recording with unblinking eyes.
- Facial recognition technology has improved by leaps and bounds in recent years, and it’s so commonplace we all have access to it in Facebook. The pool of photos is growing all the time, both on social networking sites and off in private databases. Even if you’re wearing a mask or covering your face, it doesn’t matter because police will be able to match your clothing from other video footage when your face was uncovered.
- You can’t count on your friends because all it takes is an errant tweet or Facebook post to incriminate you. Police are already watching for incriminating evidence of activities in process and arresting tweeting looters.
- Your technology can narc on you. Given how prevalent mobile phones are in the UK and how flimsy the security is, it should be relatively easy for police to use scanners to identify all mobile devices within range of a certain area where the riots are taking place. That would help kick-start any investigations or facial recognition searches. Not only that, but if the companies that produce all the electronics that have been nicked in the past few days have added any sort of security to them, connecting to the Internet could identify a looter (or someone who received stolen property).
- London Police can crowdsource the investigation with ease. [Update: ...and they already are] Back in 1997, a bunch of people in a neighborhood near Michigan State University rioted after MSU lost to Duke in the NCAA finals, burning couches, stealing and destroying property. Even back then, there were plenty of people shooting video and taking pictures which the local police took and looped on a cable-access TV channel with a message inviting the community to tip them off if they recognized anyone in the photos. That was 15 years ago – just think of how much easier it will be to crowdsource identification with Facebook ads or mobile apps.
- The evidence will stay around “forever.” That means Law Enforcement can take its time with the investigation – as it does so, the technologies and pattern-recognition algorithms will continue to improve. I’m also pretty sure England doesn’t have a statute of limitations – so prosecutions could happen even years after these fires have been extinguished.
In the meantime, mind the gap! (Sorry, couldn’t resist).
[Update: This just appeared on Mashable and is obviously highly-relevant recommended reading - "NYPD Creates Unit To Track Criminals Via Social Media"]
The Missouri Senate recently approved Senate Bill 54 the “Amy Hestir Student Protection Act” a law aimed at preventing schools from moving teachers facing misconduct allegations around from school to school without alerting parents.
Unfortunately, however, it contains some other more draconian provisions and social media takes some shrapnel. Of concern is that it bans teachers from friending students on any social networking site, limiting them to creating fan pages to which all students in a class may have access.
Like so many ham-handed legislative measures, it curbs speech and interferes with education in the name of saving the children.
One of the many stupid facets of this bill is that the victim for which the bill is named was sexually assaulted by a teacher 20 years ago, long before the advent of social networking. Read more…
As the horrible events of July 7, 2011 unfolded in Grand Rapids and a troubled Roderick Dantzler murdered seven people including two children, people around the world skipped the news media altogether and watched/listened live (via live streams of the police scanner – at one point 14,000 people were logged in). It was a tragic example of the amazing technological power the average person wields, which [to paraphrase FDR/Spiderman's Uncle Ben] “comes with great responsibility.”
What I observed made me think about the role social media will play in the future of society when events like these occur. Here’s how my night went: Read more…
Courtesy of Grand Rapids social media maven Laura Bergells (@maniactive), there’s now a screen capture of the full list of words/phrases banned by the MyGR6 contest entry form. Or, at least, this was the list banned when the contest originally debuted earlier this week. Mark L. Curtis (@Mark_L_Curtis) observes that the site appears to have switched to a paid service for content filtering. Read more…
"...and you shall have no pie."As my parents tell it, when I was an infant my first word wasn't a word - it was an entire sentence. Very little has changed.
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