Home / Networking / Networking dangers: Beware of trolls, criminals and colleagues! – CIO New Zealand

Networking dangers: Beware of trolls, criminals and colleagues! – CIO New Zealand


Most of us have to work with people we don’t like, but why lower the threshold and open our networks to them?

Bradley de Souza

We’ve all been there, talking to someone we’ve just met and barely know. We then immediately exchange contact information and connect to them online.

We become friends (social networking) or a trusted connection (professional networking) or both.

It seems that as adults, we don’t heed the same advice that we give to young people about online behaviour and security.

We rush to connect and we simply aren’t concerned about who we connect to. This is especially true when it comes to professional networking.

Networking is now more important than ever. We live in a time of constant change, where stability and security are no longer a given.

Technology drives seismic shifts in almost all areas of our daily lives. We are pressured to connect and expand our networks, both from online services and the people who use them.

Having more connections is seen as important, noteworthy and even valuable. All in all, networking is seen as a positive activity with very few negatives if any, or so it would seem.

Bradley de Souza
Bradley de Souza

Spending more time acquiring more connections is the common wisdom that we should challenge.

Observations

The changing professional landscape

Professionally, there is now a greater emphasis on projects, with activities built around fixed term or contingent employment contract models, a trend that shows no sign of abating. As before, who you know is as valuable as what you know.

Good chemistry

The salesperson’s adage, “People buy from people” is the key to unlocking successful networking. Most of us have to work with people we don’t like, but why lower the threshold and open our networks to them?

Why connect to someone you’ve just met or started working with? Are our first impressions good enough to warrant such a connection? In reality, most of us can tell if someone likes us or not.

So what value is there in connecting to someone we don’t like just because of their position? The answer is none.

To quote Woody Harrelson’s character from the movie Triple 9: ‘Be careful what you InstaGoogleTweetFace.’

Criminals

Why does it feel safe to connect with people we hardly know after just one meeting, email or phone call? It is often lamented by security experts that the weakest link in cyber security is us, the end-user.

Despite knowing that criminals have already infiltrated the online world, we continue to share information with relative strangers. We are encouraged to ensure our professional profiles are as accurate as possible, providing a goldmine of information for criminals.

At best, the unscrupulous use this data indirectly and bundle it up, hoping to earn a fee. At worst, criminals use your information to commit fraud such as identity theft. We read about online dating scams and how people have been defrauded. Less publicised are the scams perpetrated via professional networks such as Linkedin.

XXL contact lists

An acquaintance once mentioned having a professional network of around 16,000 people on Linkedin. He claimed to be adding 500 new connections at a time and was hoping to reach Linkedin’s 30,000 limit. He publishes articles and make comments for the sake of it, hoping to raise his profile amongst this group of mostly strangers. He believes that Linkedin’s algorithm prioritises him based on the size of his network and his activity regardless of its value.

It’s difficult for anyone to do the due diligence on 500 new connections. It’s impossible for an individual to know hundreds of people on an in-depth basis, and yet that is probably what should be required in order to maximise value from any networking.

Managing large numbers of connections should be a full-time job if done properly. It’s only relevant to certain types of people in specific roles.

Very few of us can leverage large networks successfully. It takes a great deal of time, skill and resource to establish, develop and ultimately benefit from any network of contacts.

People in the public eye take this seriously and employ others to manage their social and professional networks. In striving for a large network, people get stuck in a no man’s land between a network too large to manage and yet too small for commercial purposes.

A quick search on Google reveals what most of us already suspect: functionally, social and professional networking is pointless at best and broken at worst. It’s also benign at best and harmful at worst.

Aside from criminals, real world trolling should be our main concern when networking. Jealous or insecure coworkers, tyrannical bosses, envious friends, etc., should have their influence removed. We should eliminate them from our networks by disconnecting and then blocking people we know to be less than supportive of us.

Beware of the trolls!

According to the Oxford English dictionary, an online troll is a person who makes deliberately offensive or provocative remarks, usually anonymously or via a fake identity. It is often said that online trolls can’t cause any real damage however trolling is a real and very damaging issue.

Trolling is nothing new. Before the internet, real world trolls were called by many names, most of which are not suitable for publication. We have all encountered people like this at one time or another, be they bullies, or disagreeable people you meet in life. These real world trolls can impact you in many ways. They can affect us maliciously by using a combination of online and offline means.

Aside from criminals, real world trolling should be our main concern when networking. Jealous or insecure coworkers, tyrannical bosses, envious friends, etc., should have their influence removed. We should eliminate them from our networks by disconnecting and then blocking people we know to be less than supportive of us.

Trolling in the workplace is nothing new. The environment is set up to make people compete against one and other. Professional jealousy can make trolls out of the best of us. Even leaving a company doesn’t guarantee that the trolling will stop.

A French Poet, Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian (March 6, 1755 – September 13, 1794) once said “Pour vivre heureux, vivons cachés” which translates as ‘In order to live happily, live hidden’. We should not become hermits, but why would we willingly invite someone we don’t like into our lives? Why are we are happy to open up an online window for them to watch us? If familiarity breeds contempt then this window provokes their dysfunctional behaviour as we endeavour to portray the best side of ourselves online.

'We rush to connect and we simply aren’t concerned about who we connect to. This is especially true when it comes to professional networking.'
‘We rush to connect and we simply aren’t concerned about who we connect to. This is especially true when it comes to professional networking.’

Networking principles: What technology can teach us?

There are no hard and fast rules around networking. What works for one person may not necessarily work for another. In general, spending more time acquiring more connections is the common wisdom that we should challenge.

Modern computer networking underpins the entire fabric of the Information Age. It forms the basis of the Internet and was originally designed to continue to function after damage from a nuclear bomb blast. Over the years, additional elements have been added to the design. These can be used as the principles for modern networking between people.

Computer networks are roughly categorised as LAN (local area network – nodes are in close proximity) or WAN (wide area network – nodes are distant from each other). Our human networks could easily fall into these two broad categories and as such, each could be treated differently.

Good computer networks are designed around several key principles: Security, Trust, Privacy, Reliability, Resilience.

These networks are managed and operated on another set of principles: Efficiency, Speed, Accuracy, Up-to-date.

Do these design and operating principles of modern computer networks hold the secret to good human networking? Probably.

Better networking, some suggestions

Build a good network: Your network should be a place where new ideas and suggestions can be explored, challenged and developed. It should be a place of safety, with a pool of relevant information and opportunity.

Accept all connection requests/invitations even from people you don’t know. Quickly verify them and then disconnect from people who don’t respond or who provide less than convincing responses.

Balance privacy, visibility and transparency: We are told to carefully curate all that we put online, particularly on social networks. It is not unusual for employers to check online activity as a means of evaluating potential and existing employees. To quote Woody Harrelson’s character from the movie Triple 9: “Be careful what you InstaGoogleTweetFace.”

Use Blocking: Disconnect and/or block those who you suspect to be less than benevolent towards you. Depending on the services you use, no one will ever be notified. Blocking may also help sidestep restrictive and antiquated workplace policies on blogging, etc. This should give you the freedom to develop and share information and ideas in ways you wouldn’t for fear of criticism from people that aren’t supportive.

Review the network periodically: Every good gardener knows that weeds are inevitable. Weeds in this case are the negative elements and people already described. Monitor, evaluate and clean up your network on a regular basis, remove the weeds.

We should aim to apply the design and operating principles of modern computer networking to our own social and professional networks. If we embrace and share the practices suggested previously, we can build wholesome networks which are truly collaborative

Bradley de Souza

Conclusion

Networking is now more important than ever but we need to exercise caution and discretion. Given it’s importance, we should question ourselves regarding this seemingly innocuous activity: Why do we lower our standards when it comes to social and professional networking? Why do we connect to strangers? Why do we connect to people we don’t care about? If we feel this way about them, it’s likely they feel the same way about us.

In the professional world we are more likely to meet those who don’t like us simply because we have no say in who we work with. Our professional efforts are therefore best served by achieving our goals and ambitions rather than worrying about others that are unfavourable towards us.

Networking shouldn’t be about trying to please as many people as possible, it shouldn’t be about being likeable or compatible to large groups. I was once concerned about what to wear on a Friday when people usually dressed down at work. People dressed in a wide variety of styles and fashions. Some staff dressed well whilst the majority made very little effort. Challenged by what to wear, I expressed my frustration to my partner and she said, “Wear what you like because whatever you choose, someone won’t like it.”

In 2010, I had a network of over 600 professional connections on Linkedin, most of whom I could barely remember if at all. In 2013, as a result of changing professional and personal circumstances, I started to review my networks.

Today I have exactly 160 professional connections which is more manageable, personable and valuable. According to research conducted in the 90s, the ideal number of stable relationships humans can comfortably maintain, is 150.

A friend once mentioned that his phone only contained the details of people he’d contacted in the last six months. How many of us have contacts we haven’t communicated with in a long time? The value of these relationships eventually goes down to zero as time goes by.

We should aim to apply the design and operating principles of modern computer networking to our own social and professional networks. If we embrace and share the practices suggested previously, we can build wholesome networks which are truly collaborative.

A good network should be greater than the sum of its parts. Once the negatives have been removed, only then will opportunities be openly discussed and developed. They will be offered up confidently, instead of tentatively or not at all.

Read more: ​Business evolution: What you should have done before to be effective now – and succeed tomorrow

Bradley de Souza (bradley@xtanz.com) is an internationally recognised CIO/CTO/COO who has specialised in change, transformation and recovery across industries around the world.

Bradley de Souza: 'In 2010, I had a network of over 600 professional connections on Linkedin, most of whom I could barely remember if at all. In 2013, as a result of changing professional and personal circumstances, I started to review my networks.  Today I have exactly 160 professional connections which is more manageable, personable and valuable.'
Bradley de Souza: ‘In 2010, I had a network of over 600 professional connections on Linkedin, most of whom I could barely remember if at all. In 2013, as a result of changing professional and personal circumstances, I started to review my networks. Today I have exactly 160 professional connections which is more manageable, personable and valuable.’

Send news tips and comments to divina_paredes@idg.co.nz

Follow Divina Paredes on Twitter: @divinap

Follow CIO New Zealand on Twitter:@cio_nz

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