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Systems Engineering and Social Media

November 23rd, 2017 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

The recent rash of misuse and abuse of social media reminds us of that old, boring practice called systems engineering and limiting systems to do only what they are supposed to do.

Recent news reports point to all sorts of “misuse” and “abuse” of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. These companies, as well as Google, just had their top lawyers sit in front of our elected representatives’ lawyers to discuss things that top lawyers discuss.

It seems that some people used these social media outlets to push their propaganda on folks. Little credit is given to folks to discern anything about propaganda. Let’s not delve into the subject of elected representatives having a dim view of the persons who elected them. That is for another day…

Facebook was created so that friends could stay in contact and communicate. Cool. I like that. I have found many of the persons who went to tiny Loranger High School the same time periods as myself. I keep in touch with many relatives who live a thousand miles away. This is great. Facebook fulfills its purpose.

Facebook also has capabilities that perhaps were not intended. (see my post on Unintended Capabilities). Persons have exploited those. For example, Facebook Live allows me to show my adorable grand kids roasting marshmallows live to relatives far away who would love to see that. That is an intended capability. Works great. Persons can, however, use Facebook Live to broadcast “I HATE MY NEIGHBOR” to the world for free $0. That is an unintended capability.

Enter good old, bad old, neglected in the post-modern world practice of systems engineering (SE). When practicing SE, a system will do everything it is intended to do (all requirements are built, tested, integrated, and delivered). Also when practicing SE, a system will not do anything it is not intended to do. Only the requirements are implemented AND functions are in the system to prevent other capabilities from being capable.

It is obvious that Facebook, Inc. did not use SE. If they had, you wouldn’t be able to stand in front of the world and spend $0 to yell, “I HATE MY NEIGHBOR” to the entire world. That was not a requirement. Something in the system should not implement that. My guess is the folks at Facebook knew how to prevent that unintended capability, but didn’t want to spend the money on it.

Gosh, isn’t it great that they saved that money?

Systems engineering pays for itself.

Tags: Engineering · General Systems Thinking · Requirements · Systems

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