For many of us, social media has become an extension of other communications mediums, such as texting and emailing; however unlike those mediums, social media is not often one to one, and even more seldom private, as some celebrities have found to their cost.
Twitter, Facebook, MySpace – you name it, there are literally hundreds of websites today that require the user to hand over volumes of information about themselves, and post it for all the world to see. Smartphones also mean that we are never likely to miss a new Tweet, or Status Update, as they can instantly update us, ensuring not a moments respite from the digital and social world.
Sorry, this is a private conversation
However, being in constant communication brings its own problems. It may appear that when a witty retort, or quick remark is tapped out on our smartphones, netbooks or iPads, they are only heading for our friends, or selected recipients – just like when we text. However they are invariably end up right in the public eye, permanently, as many high profile Tweeters have found just lately.
Take the recent Twitter mishap with TV dietician Gillian McKeith. Following an ill tempered exchange with a fellow Tweeter, whom she accused of harbouring anti-American feelings, Gillian McKeith’s account was used to post the message:
How sad a life to enjoy reading lies about another by an ass who makes money from pharmaceutical giants.
Well. The person referred to as a lying ass, didn’t take kindly to that very public message and responded that it was libellous.
hi @gillianmckeith, i’m writing a piece about you libelling me in the context of #libelreform, can you pls contact email@example.com thnks
Demonstrating once again, that there is rarely such a thing as a private conversation. The tweets were later removed, however the internet does not have a real delete key, everything remains in perpetuity. The incident was covered in detail in the press, many mocking Gillian McKeith’s naivety in using social media but she isn’t alone in making a Twitter faux pas.
Another mishap occurred when cricketer Dimitri Mascarenhas decided to have a pop at England selector Geoff Miller. He later apologised, was hit with a £1500 fine and said:
“I have learnt a great deal about the dangers of social networking sites and encourage other players to think carefully before signing up to them.”
Sadly it is a lesson that is often hard learned. Kevin Pietersen received a similar punishment when he also decided on a Twitter rant and by way of an excuse similarly stated:
“It wasn’t meant for the public domain,”
Hmm, well perhaps posting it on the internet wasn’t the smartest thing to do then?
Even if we assume that these celebrities don’t really understand the internet and Twitter, what about the ones that do?
Simon Pegg, the self confessed geek, recently Tweeted:
3D used in films not aimed at children is like seeing someone you respect trying too hard. Like witnessing your dad in leather trousers.
This was soon picked up by the news networks, with the BBC mentioning it when reporting on the forthcoming Star Wars 3D releases. Obviously getting lots of reactions to his comments, Pegg later Tweeted:
You know when you say “Did I just say that out loud?” If they ever make a Twitter movie, that should be the tag line. http://t.co/yRZrCsH
Gizmodo have a page dedicated to the whole conversation. Proving once again that even those that are well aware of social networking website’s can fall foul of the fact that everyone, everywhere is listening.
We know where you are
It’s not just saying the wrong thing that users of social networking websites have to be wary off, now with Facebook Places, they have to be careful of where they are, and just who they are sharing that information with. The obvious risks of a cheating husband (or wife) not being where they say they are, or pulling a sickie to go and watch the match aside, there are more serious dangers to allowing people to access your location. This is such a concern to the Ministry of Defence that it has issued instructions to all personnel on how to turn it off!
Ironically Google’s, the largest collector of such information, CEO Eric Schmidt recently stated that young people were blissfully unaware of the dangers of sharing so much information online, and would one day have to change their names to escape the deep digital footprint that they had inadvertently left on the web. He, somewhat ominously, said:
“we know roughly who you are, roughly what you care about, roughly who your friends are.”
Before going on to state that Google would be collecting more and more such personal information in the future, presumably to remove the doubt. Ironically Google once stopped having anything to do with the technology website CNET for several months, when they published personal information about Eric Schmidt that the website had obtained via Google searches. Further demonstrating that for the big companies, personal information sharing is a one way street.
Of course it isn’t just social networking sites whose misuse can have serious repercussions, as one Bedford teenager discovered. Presumably as some kind of prank he sent an abusive email to Barack Obama, that led quite surprisingly to a visit from his local police to issue him with a warning, and also inform him that he was banned from visiting the United States, for life.
The moral of each of these stories is clearly to consider what is placed on social media websites as carefully as you would consider your words in a job interview or live television or perhaps a large room full of your friends and family. Assume everything on all social media websites is public, because it probably will be, and assume everyone is listening, because if you misspeak, they will be. Social media may well be a very useful tool for businesses to promote their wares, and for people to keep in touch, but it is also a minefield, which becomes trickier to negotiate, the more it is traversed.