Would you sack someone if they accidentally got your Twitter account suspended?

I’ve just received an email from a distraught colleague who’s been sacked for getting her agency’s Twitter account suspended.

She reached the 2000 limit of the number of people she was following, so started unfollowing some people and following others instead. Twitter treated this as suspicious activity and suspended the account.

And apparently her bosses have gone ballistic and sacked her summarily.

Quite apart from the employment law issues here, this raises lots of questions that, quite frankly, were asked of me during my stint as a social media bod on the agency side and which were operative in my decision to get out.

Namely:

  • People who don’t know about this stuff think there are millions of people talking about them and laughing at them across the world right now, and it’s just not true. In fact, in the case of this Twitter account suspension, I daresay no one really noticed. However, the brouhaha around this sort of issue is probably because people like me were employed to go around scaring other people into giving us large sums of money by telling horror stories such as The Walmart Blog That Came In The Night and The Awful Case Of The Kryptonite Lock.

This is one reason I got out. I don’t think social media is going to change the world, at least not in the same way some people claim, and I simply cannot stand people who bully others because deep down they’re scared about it all. For every ‘big’ social media story there must be bazillions we don’t know about. For every champagne fountain of success or huge stinking cesspool of failure there is an entire ocean of unexciting, unstimulating social media flotsam and jetsam.

  • What happens now? Click image for source.

    What happens now? Click image for source.

    People who don’t know about this stuff think that people who do, know everything about it. But there is so much to social media, it spans such a huge amount of stuff and is still so new, that no one can know everything. I mean, my friend took Twitter to the limit, quite literally, and whereas I had a vague notion that something happens at 2K, I didn’t actually know what that would have been or how to work around it. Who knows what can happen with Facebook? What should we avoid with YouTube? Or Flickr? Or ZooBoing-Woop or whatever will come around next? I mean, given that the earth is flat, what happens when you get to the end of it? Do dentists really know what to do when they puncture your sinus? Any ideas?

This is another reason I got out. People who know nothing about social media think that you know everything. People who do, think that you don’t. It’s a lose-lose situation.

  • If you make a mistake, surely that means you’ve learned something? It’s easy to get stuff right if you just operate within narrow limits. If you push the envelope then occasionally it’s going to break, but at least you know where that limit is, and how to get there. I see this as a fundamental difference between US and UK philosophies. In the US, you start a business and you fail, means you know how to fail and therefore avoid it in future. In the UK, you’re nothing. This sucks.

And this isn’t a reason I got out, because generally I found the programmes I worked on were, well, fairly tame, so I wasn’t given a chance to really screw up. Blogger outreach? Meh. Monitoring online? Bleh. Nothing like the wonderful things expressed in Groundswell. Like I said, it’s mostly mediocrity (which I guess is a tautology). Not that I haven’t screwed up generally. There was the time that I [INSERT SCREW-UP ONE HERE], oh and the time I [INSERT SCREW-UP TWO HERE], and then again I once [INSERT SCREW-UP THREE HERE] with a cucumber.

So what you think? Going back to the title of this post, would you sack someone if they accidentally got your Twitter account suspended? I guess the reasoning in this case goes that, if you hire someone as your expert, you put faith in them to know about the 2K limit, then having hit it, to avoid activity that Twitter classes as ‘suspicious’. And more generally, if you hire an expert you expect them to know lots of stuff and not screw up.

But it does seem an extreme reaction to me. The whole world is not watching; no one can know it all; and accidents will happen.

If you scroll back up this post you’ll see a poll. Let me know what you think.

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Back everything up, everywhere, all the time

Looks fun but it isnt. Click for source.

Looks fun but it isn't. Click for source.

Beware – lightning does strike twice and before you lose your data, back it up.

In which Brendan obsesses about backing up

I’m writing this post at my laptop. Nothing unusual there. But what is unusual is that I have two 1TB USB drives attached to it. One of them is copying the operating system images and data from my laptop, work PC and multimedia PC to the laptop’s C drive. The other – an exact mirror – is copying them to the laptop’s D drive.

Count the backups: four in total. That’s not counting the exact same backups I just made to the multimedia PC and work PC in turn, which means three more lots of backups of operating systems and data. One of the USB drives will be stored offsite, while the other will be hidden somewhere in the house. In this way, on every machine, I have a backup of everything. If any/all of them are stolen, I have onsite backups. If the house burns down, I’ve got it all stored in a locked drawer in an office somewhere in London.

I even have a nifty little 8GB USB drive on my keyring for occasional copying.

Is this overkill? If your house hasn’t been struck by lightning – twice, like mine has – then probably yes. But given that insurance has always been based on perception of risk, then a recent nasty incident means I don’t consider this overkill. I think it’s practical. I think it’s essential.

Lightning does strike twice

I recently moved into a lovely listed building near the Chilterns. This is great. The Chilterns are very pretty. Unfortunately they seem to create their own weather systems which means you can get fairly violent thunderstorms as the hot air spins off them and hits the cold air of Buckinghamshire.

I actually quite enjoy these events. So about a month ago I spent some time in the garden admiring how the little swirly weather cells lugubriously stirred around with small whisps of smoke-like cloud hanging down from them. When it started to rain, I came in. When the lightning started I got even more excited, like a small child. Everything felt crackly.

But when a bolt struck what looked like the small patch of grass five feet outside the window, well, dear reader, I nearly shat my pants. After peeling myself from the opposite wall I noticed that all the electrics were out. I think we had just one small bulb still working in a broom cupboard under the stairs.

Given that I’d only just moved, I didn’t know where the Big F*cking Switch was to turn it all back on. I finally found it, then started to worry about my computers. Thankfully everything was ok, and even more thankfully I noticed the laptop was disconnected from the mains, so even if the others had fried, that one had stood more chance of remaining unharmed.

I didn’t learn my lesson. A month later, the same thing happened. No, really. This time, as the skies darkened and the finger of God started poking around the vegetable patch, I suddenly realised I needed to make sure everything was backed up, and quickly, so started fumbling around for a USB thumb drive. And before I found it, the lightning hit again. Everything died.

This time, I was midway through a big job. When I got the PC back up and running, I noticed with horror that there was no autosave. And I hadn’t backed up for a couple of days. I’d lost at least four hours’ worth of current work, and who knows what other work-in-progress.

There are monsters

The backup I had was sufficient to get back to speed without too much trouble and, more importantly, to the same standard and by the deadline. But I learned the lessons this time.

They are these:

  • Back everything up. You can copy data using simple copy n’paste. But back up your operating systems too. Norton Ghost is a candidate and I’ve used it in the past with XP but it seems to have troubles with Vista. I now use Acronis which does the job well.
  • Back everything up everywhere. If you have spare disk capacity, use it. If you run out of space you can either get more, or cut back on the multiple backups. As I say, I’ve got onsite backups I can quickly access if I do something daft. If one PC dies or I lose the laptop in a bizarre gardening accident, I’ve got the same stuff on others. I’ve got a USB drive stashed away in case someone nicks everything. And I’ve got an offsite mirror so that, if the worst happens – that is, if we get struck by lightning yet again and the house burns down, with me emerging blackened and smoking like something from a Tom and Jerry cartoon – then I’ve still got my data which, in a very real sense, is my livelihood.
  • Validate your backups. They’re usually ok but most backup software will also check that it worked properly. Don’t depend on anything you don’t know for certain you can later rely on.
  • Partition your hard drive. If you fancy playing around with hard drives, then partition yours so that you have the operating system and data on separate partitions. It just makes backing up easier. Even better than that, have separate drives altogether.
  • Beware the Chilterns. They’re pretty, but volatile. I know people like that and I wouldn’t trust them with my data either.

There are other measures you can take. Some services offer to backup everything offsite by uploading your data (I would list some but my broadband isn’t working either – I’m currently using a 3G widget – but that’s another story). I’m not sure how well they would work if, like me, you’re storing many gigabytes of data but you could try them.

For ad-hoc infrequent backups of individual files, attach them to a Gmail and send them to yourself, or upload them to Google Docs. Leave Google to worry about storage.

You can also look at surge protection and uninterruptible power supplies. I’ve got the former but I’m now considering the latter too.

And dragons. And wolverines. And stalking trees. And flying lepidopters.

There’s an old adage that data which isn’t backed up has no value. Now I’ve backed mine up seven times in total, and counting, I’ve made sure it retains as much value as possible. All it takes is a click of the mouse to copy stuff. All it takes is a freakish event to lose it all.

So now, If a tiger emerges from the bushes  – or even seven tigers, come to that – and ruins everything, it won’t get my data. If a herd of unicorns tramples the vegetable patch, my data is safe. If the horsemen of the Apocalypse, and their friends, knock on the door, they can take my freedom but they’ll never take my data.

I now need to calculate the probability that I’ll be hit by lightning again. Perhaps I really do have a little black cloud hanging over me. If so, I inherited that from my father. I’ll call it the Cooper Cloud and no, unlike cloud computing, it doesn’t aid productivity.