Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Tweet No Evil?

I believe that blogs, wiki's, user-generated news sites etc are the way of the future. If the technology exists, someone will find a way to use it. Much like those nasty bombs and tanks.
Recently a hacker allegedly stole corporate internal documents of Twitter from their cloud, and sent them to publications. While TechCrunch has decided to do the right thing and not use all of it, they appear to have indicated that they don't actually see a problem in using the information. The content ranges from executive notes to financial projections to info on job-seekers.
Leaks to media are age-old, but they were usually rather isolated. Print and TV are still governed by old-world broadcasting guidelines, and self-imposed codes of conduct. Moreover, you probably did not want to enter into litigation with big advertisers, unless you were very sure of your data. But in the free world, only your readers matter. And it's a crowded market desperately seeking their eyeballs. So, the dilemma, if you don't print it, someone else who can set up a website for free, can.

This incident highlights that data is often not safe from either a dedicated hacker or a determined low-tech disgruntled employee. Which brings me to the cautionary part of this tale.

I'm a new fan of Twitter. It surprises me that people put so much of their personal information voluntarily into the public space. Search any organization’s name and you will find lonely singles, job-hoppers, frustrated 9-to-5vers. This used to be information that you would typically not share with your mother, let alone your colleagues, but is now being shared with anyone with an internet connection. Is that wise? Perhaps the generation that grows up with this huge amount of information sloshing about will learn to switch off and not let it colour their perceptions of a person or company. But neither socially nor legally are we there yet. So here are some tips on professionally-safe internet usage:
1. Everything you put onto a social site ie Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn can find its way to your present or future boss, spouse or bank manager.
2. Ensure that any public mentions of your employer are in the professional context. For example, don’t post “I’m with BoringCompany looking for a jump to FunCompany.”
3. Assume that any email you send could potentially be shared with a wider audience, unless you explicitly advise the recipient not to. People tend to forward stuff without deleting your cute one-to-one comments.
4. Any mail that is sent to more than 10 people could end up with a much larger circulation despite any requests to keep it confidential. One of the ten is likely to share it with another couple of friends also with a strict injunction to keep it confidential and so on.

Many years ago, when email was still a new phenomenon, a boss advised me never to put anything in writing that you would not like to see on the front page of a newspaper. That advice continues to be valid.

What if a bad apple deliberately violates privacy and confidentiality? Well, the law will of course take its own course, but we, as potential consumers of tainted information, also have to take a stance. Much as the paparazzi only take photographs to feed the public's lust for celeb photos, information has no value with no consumers.

Mahatma Gandhi’s three monkeys got it right – hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil! Or to use the language of social media, Tweet no evil, Read no evil, Retweet no evil!

4 comments:

manu said...

agree... hopefully, judging people purely by a single status message will be something a later generation won't live by... but until then, the responsibility is on the reader and the communicator... and in a trigger happy web, it is too much to expect maturity from all readers, so we need to be careful... hopefully the maturity will increase with the medium's maturity...

Anonymous said...

Nicely put Jessie. These new media is still at a very nascen t stage and it's success or failure is all with how we as readers/writers make use of it

Sid Mishra said...

very relevant words, possibly today's youth might find these ideas 'outdated', and not the 'in' thing - but its always better to be safe than sorry. I guess this mostly gets promoted by peer pressure - and immature minds start copying what their peers or friends are doing as a fad. There already have been so many cases of 'identity theft' already due to public data - hope your 'Tweet mantra' would help avoid that !

Jessie Paul said...

sid, manu - thanks for your comments. Every generation has its own moral standards - it used to be frowned upon for a woman to have a telephone conversation with a man in her nightdress! And in India, you still have people standing up to answer calls from their boss!