Twitter ye not!

Posted on May 9, 2011

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The twitter #superinjunction case has thrown up yet again the question of how much anyone or any company can keep anything secret for long. Do we now live in the ultimate transparent society where everything will be shared whether we like it or not. Mark Zuckerberg certainly seems to think that people should be open to the idea of their data being shared (even if he does understand the natural concerns some of us have), and the phantom #superinjunction twitterer certainly seems to think that the law is an ass and should be railroaded by twitter posts.

But the law is not an ass. It’s there to act as an agreed point of mediation between people. It’s ever evolving, but its aim is to maintain agreement between peoples and to maintain balance in society. I think we ignore it at our peril.

That said, people are taking matters into their hands with ever-increasing abandon. Places such as wikileaks have quite rightly encouraged people to speak up and to uncover unfair practices. This is great, but what is not so welcoming is any message that encourages people to take matters into their own hands before pursuing more sensible channels. Consider this: the employee that decides to expose their company’s safety flaws has done a great job in sharing their concerns with the wider public: Yes or perhaps. If every channel has been explored and if the action is avoiding disaster, then yes. But what if those channels have not been explored? What is the risk to that company and to the jobs of the people inside it when the negative PR hits – and news does not need to be truthful to stick.

If we continue to create a society where data and information is shared in a transparent fashion, then we have to take on board the personal responsibilities we have when doing so. Take the story of Tom Mullaney a 15 year old schoolboy who committed suicide after experiencing Facebook bullying. What is of note about this sad case is how the bullying escalated. A private chat between two boys was shared with the wider community on a Facebook wall. From thereon in, it appears that the wider community was able to join in the online conversation with little chance for the victim to fight back. The consequences were devastating.

So at a micro-level in our day to day lives, the consequences of sharing data and content are not always thought through and can be huge. These consequences are just not understood. Rather like the fame obessessed b-list celebrity, we hand our data over to the online world not really thinking about how it will be judged, chewed over, reused and spat out. Is it OK to share data without considering the implications of what you do? No. Do we do it? Yes – just take a look at a handful of facebook accounts. Or try looking at personal updates using Openbook (which I’m sure facebook users don’t know about). Should social media networks be used to sidestep the law? As Paddy Ashdown said to Douglas Murray on BBC Question Time last week when debating the implications of the assumed rights and wrongs what had been purported to be the ‘assassination’ of Osama Bin Laden, you just don’t ignore the law because it is difficult to administer.

So what are the implications for nervous businesses that are now watching their employees join in the online conversation? Should it be banned? Should my company insist on my closing down this blog? Should I be asked to have my tweaks cleared before posting? Should there be a clause in my contract that states that I am liable for any fines imposed as a result of words uttered on behalf of my company when using unapproved channels. I think not. The online community is here to stay, and debate and conversation online will only increase and become more normalised. What people have to take is personal responsibility for their words, and recognise that those words have very real implications. Would you say it to their face? Would you say it to a full room? Would you be confident in stating it for the record? Are you happy with the implications for everyone of what you say? These are key questions.

As for shutting down social media – unwise. It will just move elsewhere. Look at places like employeeleaks which is trying to get off the ground, or glassdoor.com where open conversations are happening.

It is more the case that the conversation has started, but the participants are not always aware of the actions that result because of their words.

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