Sir John SawersFamily details of Sir John Sawers, the incoming head of MI6, were posted on Facebook by his wife. This could prove to be a serious lapse in security for the future Chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service.

At the very least, it’s an embarrassment for MI6 and another demonstration that people frequently use Facebook and social media to publish things they later regret.

Yesterday’s Mail on Sunday had photos and comments from the Facebook page of Lady Shelley Sawers, wife of Sir John Sawers the incoming head of MI6. Lady Sawers’ page included family photos and information, details about their London flat and comments from friends. The information could be seen as a major security breach for the new Chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service, leaving him open to blackmail.

This is a great scoop for the Mail because it mixes Facebook, family photos and a government crisis into one story. Sex aside, it’s hard to think of a better set of ingredients for Sunday newspaper. However, in practice, it’s much more of an embarrassment than it is a true national security risk.

Looking at the story from a social media perspective, two aspects jump out: some people share too much using social media, and, Knights of the Realm and their wives are now using Facebook.

Social media is for life
There are countless examples of people regretting what they have posted on Facebook. One of my early favourites was the Goldman Sachs employee, addicted to Facebook who was fired after posting an internal email and boasting that he’d prefer to lose his job than lose Facebook. And he did.

How did Lady Sawers make this mistake? She posted a new set of photos the day after her husband was named head of the Secret Intelligence Service. She even using his new codename “C” in her comments. It’s one thing for a student to post something whilst at university that they later come to regret. It’s a real surprise to see someone already in a prominent position posting information that could instantly embarrass.

Perhaps Lady Sawers didn’t realise that her privacy settings were slack
and that every member of Facebook had the ability to see her page. More likely, as with many users of social media, she just didn’t stop to think about what she was posting and who might read it.

Back when Facebook was only available to undergraduates, I got hold of an account to check the profile of someone we were about to hire. CVs never give a full picture, so as with many employers, viewing Facebook and Linkedin profiles is part of my hiring process. It’s a great insight into people’s lives and I am often surprised by what gets posted. I think there is a disconnect for many people and they simply don’t think before posting.

Lords, Ladies and gentleman – they’re all on Facebook

I’m often told that social media is just for students despite the statistics telling a different story. Thus perhaps the good news from all this is that it’s yet another example of how social media is not a flash in the pan for a small group. Rather, it’s a set of tools that are changing how we communicate and how we live our lives for good.

Last week a friend asked “do serious people use social media?” and I’m now looking forward to showing him this example, as well as the profiles of a few Lords I know who use Facebook. And despite this story, I’m confident it’s use will continue to increase rather than waiver.