Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Going public

If you say something controversial at a meeting, in class or even at a party there's an ever-increasing likelihood that your comment will be broadcast to the world almost instantly. Someone in the audience will have a smartphone and can inform all their contacts via Facebook or Twitter almost before you've finished your sentence. Someone may even be filming you.

This can have positive effects of course and can extend the reach of a conference or class but in many cases this sort of social reporting can have damaging effects. It just needs someone to misunderstand a comment or willfully misrepresent what was said to start all sorts of malicious rumours. I read a while ago that many celebrity parties ban cellphones because people can't relax if there's the risk that anything they do or say may be out on the net within seconds.

These themes are discussed in a new BBC article called Social media challenge social rules. The writer, Bill Thompson, admits to tweeting and sending photos during a recent conference but wonders where we should draw the line on this. Gossip has never travelled faster or further than today and maybe we need to develop a new sense of respect for what may or may not be communicated.

We have the ability to communicate with the world and suddenly all of us have to consider issues previously only considered by newspaper editors. When we send a tweet or make a blog post we are publishing in the public domain and have to consider the consequences. Remarks that you can make to a close friend in private may not be appropriate to broadcast. A vital part of the digital competence that needs to be taught in schools and colleges is a sense of appropriacy and respect or other's feelings. You never know who may read your text or see your photo. Maybe we need to learn to be more critical of what we publish.

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