“The thought police would get him just the same. He had committed–would have committed, even if he had never set pen to paper–the essential crime that contained all others in itself. Thoughtcrime, they called it. Thoughtcrime was not a thing that could be concealed forever. You might dodge successfully for a while, even for years, but sooner or later they were bound to get you.” – George Orwell, 1984, Book 1, Chapter 1
Social Media – A Bright New World or a Disaster Waiting to Happen Consider the quote from 1984 at the start of this post in light of the modern situation with our New Social Media World for a moment. Consider the frantic drafting and re-drafting of corporate social media policies to protect organisations against every imaginable, definable and perceivable scenario that their legal advisers can envisage, and this sort of envisaging does not come cheap of course. Review the constant media reports of amendments to public law, the perception and interpretation of acts likely to cause offence, a breach of the peace. How many media reports are there already of commercial suicide because they underestimated how disappointed a customer was, career suicide because they posted something offensive about their own employer or boss. Then consider the global concerns about elements related to privacy and marketing possibly even brainwashing. Remember the furore over subliminal imaging? How is that different from source amnesia? Except one is legal because we don’t really understand it yet and it is also big business, and the other was banned because we thought we understood it in the 60’s and 70’s when the World was in awe of such things. Governments and Judicial organisations around the World are trying to define what is acceptable, what is within the law, what you can say, who you can say it to and what the punishments are for breaches of these new first Social Media World laws and legislations. In my opinion they are rushing headlong into a mine field that will last for generations.
Can You Tweet Yourself to Death? Professionally – YES! Incorrect utilisation of social media can ruin your business, your brand, your reputation, your career and possibly your life in literally minutes. I am a recruiter, a Head Hunter and I operate internationally across various markets, diverse cultures and religions. I only have to make one ill thought out post on twitter or LinkedIn and I can easily offend someone somewhere amongst all the cultures, religions, belief factors and ethical perceptions. I may never actually know who I offended or why, but they can alienate me from hundreds of people who have never met me but will judge me without even uttering a word to me. For recruiters in a world where our entire business is people related and based upon relationships and reputations social media is literally a dream opportunity or a potential disaster waiting to happen, as Gary Chaplin found out when he accidentally blind copied an insulting email to thousands of people. He intended the sentiment of the original email, he maybe thought it was funny, he was undoubtedly a little angry at the time. But he never imagined it would go as far and as fast as it did. Bad news has never travelled so fast and so persistently as it does today. Imagine if someone made the same gaffe as Gerald Ratner did in 1991 today? For those who don’t remember it here is a little sample:
He said: “We also do cut-glass sherry decanters complete with six glasses on a silver-plated tray that your butler can serve you drinks on, all for £4.95. People say, ‘How can you sell this for such a low price?’ I say, because it’s total crap.” He added that his stores’ earrings were “cheaper than an M&S prawn sandwich but probably wouldn’t last as long”.
He wiped almost £500 million off his companies share value, that was in 1991! The damage was limited in many ways because bad news did no travel so fast. You could get PR Gurus and Corporate Communications people to disaster manage (SPIN) and spread counter claims almost as fast as bad news moved. Not today. Personally and privately it can cost you your friends, your relationship, your family and even your liberty almost instantly. It isn’t just you as the individual who drive this by the initial insensitivity or stupidity or possibly even correct but unwarranted or illegal statement or thought. It is also the media who use the same tools to drive and create a social frenzy out of a little piece of social media because the more visits, the more hits, the more advertising they secure the more money the company earns. I have even heard of one guy whose own wife exposed him for buying and reading pornography, her tweets became a hit in Japan, he was ridiculed to the point of attempted suicide.
The power of social media is breathtaking. The sheer concept of literally millions of people reading within minutes if not seconds, something that was intended for a small, private select audience of my friends or family is mind blowing. It used to take PR Companies weeks, months and maybe even years to get an advertising or political message out but now one carefully choreographed and stage managed strap line or piece of guerilla marketing can do the same job as dozens of PR and Branding Execs in hours if not less.
I find it frightening on so many levels. Yet despite my fear of it and probably in spite of my naturally outspoken, passionately driven and often strongly opinionated personality I still play with it and experiment with it just like I am right now. Put your hands up if you are only here because of the cat and gun image? Yes. I thought so. Almost all of us, even the so called guru’s who charge to train and teach and maximise our use and a firms investment LinkedIn, Twitter and so on, are really like that first human being Bert, who played with fire out of curiosity, hypnotised by the mystical flickering flame. When he subsequently set fire to his enemies dwelling and realised that the wonderful flame could also destroy things nobody had invented the offence of arson. There was no example set. Nobody considered it a crime of passion, it was just one of those things. We haven’t even educated one single generation yet about the benefits and the dangers of social media. As far as I am aware it does not form part of the school curriculum, it is not discussed as part of the moral guidance delivered in churches. When I was a child there was a splendid Community Police Sergeant called Keith Ellis who used to come to my school. He brought people to talk to us about the dangers of railway lines, swimming in lakes, crossing roads, talking to strangers, riding bicycles and later during our teenage years he warned us of the dangers of drugs, alcohol, glue sniffing, aerosol abuse and going off the rails. Who tells our children today about the dangers of social media? I know that we are quite rightly abundantly clear and aware of the dangers of strangers on the web, but how does a 17 year old know what Facebook can really do, how does a 40 year old know how to utilise his privacy settings? Who has told him? How does a job seeker know that he is actively alienating every recruiter and potentially lot’s of prospective employers due to his blog posts or his rants on discussions on Linkedin.
Make-BelieveWe are basically making it up as we go along, changing the rules to suit public opinion, jumping to conclusions about what everyone thinks, responding en mass in an almost hysterical manner. Forgetting that just because it is the majority opinion it doesn’t make it the right opinion. I think it was Ricky Gervais who said something like
“Just because you’re offended, doesn’t mean you’re right.”
The problem is if people don’t truly understand how it works, how can they be responsible. There are no written rules, we don’t have a moral or ethical guide or compass on Social Media, because it is still happening and it is too complex. In recent months we have had examples of people imprisoned for making statements perceived to be inciting a riot. In a couple of cases individuals who appear to severely lack any kind of sound moral guidance or social responsibility claimed they were joking, they didn’t mean it, they were just having a laugh with their mates. How do we really know they were not, after all none of the ones convicted and jailed were actually caught in the act of public disorder or affray. In effect it was a ‘thought crime’, it was a brain-fart, it was an outspoken moment of stupidity, but it was probably shared and understood by their desired audience, they just did not realise it was not shared and understood by mine and yours. If they had known that a second of misguided humour could secure you 3-4 years in prison do you really think they would have done it? Really!
Education and Prevention is Key In the UK it is extremely difficult to obtain a gun, at least legally anyway. There is good reason for this, people don’t understand how to use them safely, can’t secure them properly and are often tempted to use them negligently or in moments of anger. Similarly with cars (cars not cats okay), you have to be taught how to drive one safely so that you don’t kill someone or yourself. But even then there is massive investment in telling us the obvious, don’t drink and drive, don’t speed, cautionary signs on motorways for example.Despite the fact that we have all taken courses and passed a test. Where are the public notices warning us about the consequences of social media? You wouldn’t give your child a loaded gun (or any gun for that matter) yet we all willingly give them a mobile phone!
Parental Guidance – If you are Parents and your children are engaging with social media, tell them how to use it properly while you are explaining about the birds and the bees and how not to communicate with strangers. If you are an employer who encourages your employees to use social media then appoint a volunteer social media representative, encourage them to stay ahead of the game, to train, to issue advice. It is simply not enough to assume that everyone knows what they are doing, just because you have issued a Social Media Policy. You have an obligation to protect your employees just as you do to protect your revenues and your business. If like me you are using social media but feel like you are often wearing a blindfold, then be cautious, never post in anger and always review, have reviewed by someone else or think twice before posting.
No cats were injured in the process of writing this article. Many of the examples used are for effect only and do not represent the views and opinions of the author / authors. Any tips, suggestions, legal advice, insight, education references are extremely welcomed on this subject matter. Please share, re-post and feel free to enlighten me, make constructive comments.