It’s been quite a couple of weeks for matters of online privacy. The revelation that the US National Security Agency really is monitoring electronic communications on a massive scale after all is simultaneously both unsurprising and and confusing. It’s the sort of thing many people assumed would be happening, but to be told that it really is still shocks.
It’s interesting how reactions and attitudes are shifting as this story moves from fiction to fact. It’s possible to be outraged at the widespread monitoring of private communications whilst also feeling grateful that someone out there really is keeping tabs on what some of the bad guys are planning. Some say one of the things that defines us as humans is our ability to hold contradictory beliefs.
We also heard a startling interview about the apparently widespread practice of hackers peering at computer users through their webcams. It seems we may have unwittingly invited Big Brother, or Little Teenager, into our own homes.
Whilst many people around the world will now be thinking more carefully about what they say and do online, it’s also clear that many really don’t. Earlier this week a contact sent me a link to a post on UnMarketing which captures this succinctly: ‘Why Tweets About Obese Doctors Are Never Your Own‘. Scott Stratten highlights the absurdity of the often-used disclaimer “All tweets are my own”, pointing out that linking a personal twitter feed to an employer is only ever a couple of clicks worth of work, and how this:
leads inexorably to this:
It’s a great post, please read it.
The next day, we had an example from closer to home. You won’t be surprised to hear that we monitor social media for mentions of the University. It helps us to answer questions and queries that people may have about us and it also helps us to gauge how people feel about us. So, whenever someone tweets our name, we tend to see it. And on Thursday morning, this popped up:
I’ve redacted it for language.
We checked to see where this was coming from, and found that Roy was at the UCAS fair at Liverpool University. We discovered this by looking at the rest of his public twitter feed. It looked like this:
Fairly reasonably, we found ourselves wondering who this chap was. So we googled his name, plus UCAS and came up with some of his work references. He’s the Education Liaison Officer at a college in West Yorkshire.
I’m sure the students he met at the UCAS fair didn’t realise that he was on the look-out for faces that fit a Liverpudlian stereotype. I doubt the student ambassadors from Exeter realised he wanted them to leave. I’m guessing the guy with the horn-rimmed spectacles never knew that Roy was thinking about punching him in the face.
However, if any of these people, after meeting Roy, had gone away and googled his name plus ‘twitter’, perhaps because they wanted to ask him a question, they would have found out fairly quickly.
In our social media guidelines, we say:
- Social media are public spaces. You should not say anything that you would not be happy to say in a public gathering and you should not publish information which you would not be happy for anyone in the world to see.
This is as true for your ‘personal’, ‘private’, ‘views all my own’ social media. Think about what ‘social media’ means in strict literal terms. And then think about what you’re saying.
Post script: Roy’s original tweet was useful for us. We contacted our Recruitment Team, showed them the tweet, and they had a conversation with the Student Ambassadors who represented the University at this particular UCAS event to check that they had behaved appropriately and think about whether there was anything they needed to change.
So, thanks Roy, for showing us one of the many benefits, and some of the pitfalls, of social media.