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When there’s too much information

Dr Dinithi Pallegedara’s PhD explores the pitfalls of organisational information leaks.

When Dinithi Pallegedara took the first steps of her Australian education journey, she probably could not have imagined the ways in which social media would impact, shape and revolutionise global communications. It’s also unlikely that she could’ve imagined lining up – less than a decade later – to receive a Deakin PhD.

Raised in Sri Lanka, Dinithi first came to Australia to study information technology at Deakin’s partner institution Deakin College and has carved an education pathway that’s recently culminated in a PhD exploring the issue of organisational information leaks on social media.

As a long-time user of social media, Dinithi says she wanted to investigate the topic not only because of its increasing importance to organisations, but also the obvious gap in research literature and theory development.

 ‘Because there is reduced control over the content shared via social media, unauthorised disclosure of organisational information has become a major risk. Media reports often reveal incidents where employees have either inadvertently disclosed confidential or sensitive information via social media,’ she says.

As an international student, Dinithi says that Deakin College provided her with the ideal conduit to further study.

‘This pathway is remarkable as if offered me the opportunity to fast-track my course and complete Bachelor of Information Technology – with a major of IT Security – in under three years,’ she says.

Among the top IT graduates of her year, Dinithi decided to extend her studies into honours research that included a thesis exploring security boundaries for online social networks.

‘While completing this, I realised my passion for academic research and teaching so I applied to several universities in both Australia and overseas to pursue my next step of research,’ she says.

She soon had a choice of PhD research offers on the table and was delighted to accept one from Deakin.

‘I was awarded a full scholarship by Faculty of Business and Law in the Department of Information Systems and Business Analytics. Deakin has always been a source of invaluable opportunities and I was very happy to return so I could expand my knowledge in information systems and business analytics,’ she says.

With her study background in information security and first-hand experience as a social media consumer, Dinithi was keen to explore the topic more widely.

 ‘Although there are many studies on the positive side or the benefits of social media, there is an absence of literature, theory development and direction in studies focusing on the challenges and concerns about social media use. I have experienced real-world scenarios where social media has been used for misinformation, cyber-bulling, information leakage, reputation harm and invasion of privacy. Information disclosure has been studied for several years but the focus has always been on traditional media.’

While disclosure can still occur through traditional channels such as paper-based files, face-to-face conversations, servers and portable data services, she says that because of its distinctive characteristics, social media is most challenging avenue.

‘In both academia and industry there is a lack of understanding and informed guidance for this specific area so my research explores the approaches that organisations can utilise to minimise unauthorised disclosure on social media.’

Dinithi used a qualitative research design that incorporated attitudinal surveys, interviews and focus groups with industry-wide global, government and private organisations.

‘This enabled me to identify the specific elements that can influence the minimisation of unauthorised disclosure at both the organisational and individual level. I also explored existing social media policies in Australian organisations and uncovered the gaps in social media policy development in addressing disclosure concerns,’ she says.

As well as revealing some of the challenges for organisations (and their employees) in managing disclosures, Dinithi hopes her research will help enhance organisations’ social media policies and – importantly – apply preventative mechanisms.

 ‘From a practical perspective, understanding these approaches is important for both employees and employers. It will help change their perceptions towards the responsible use of social media in the organisation. This approach is novel as prior research has mainly centred on technology-based solutions and the outcomes of this investigation contribute to new knowledge.’

With a busy teaching schedule and journal articles in the publishing pipeline, Dinithi is building on her research by also collaborating with health informatics experts. She says that although undertaking a PhD can be ‘incredibly challenging’ it’s also a journey with deep rewards.

‘Deakin supported me to present my research at premier information systems’ international conferences in United Kingdom and New Zealand. The feedback and insights obtained from these conferences were extremely beneficial for refining the research results. It was an unforgettable experience to receive constructive comments from superior researchers in information systems all over the world.  My PhD thesis is the final milestone of nearly a decade of life-changing experiences earned at Deakin University – the place I call “my second home”.  I believe that my PhD is a product of contributions from a number of remarkable individuals who guided, supported and stood by me – for which I am forever grateful.’

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