Sunday, July 25, 2010

Gillian McKeith, Online Communities, Common Sense and Maybe a Libel Suit

"Be careful what you tweet"
BBC (July 23, 2010)

"Online tools and services such as Twitter and Facebook create a social space that encourages informality, rapid responses and the sort of conversation that typically takes place between friends in contexts that are either private or public-private, like the street, pub or cafe....

"...Message trail

"Unfortunately, online interaction has other characteristics which are very different from those of a casual conversation in a cafe.

"Not least the fact that many services make comments visible to large numbers of people and search engines ensure that a permanent record is kept of every inane observation, spiteful aside or potentially libellous comment on a respected public figure.

"This is something that TV nutritionist Gillian McKeith has just discovered the hard way, and her experience offers a salutary lesson for anyone who wants to use social media tools to enhance their reputation rather than expose themselves to public ridicule...."

Some details of the regrettable - and highly avoidable - exchange follow in the BBC article.

The bottom line is that Gillian McKeith seems to be on a voyage of discovery in which she will learn that open Twitter accounts can be read by just about anybody who logs on, and that commenting out a link on your website's HTML code doesn't remove it.

Or, that she needs to find out who has been running her website and Twitter account, and find out what's been going on.

Making an active link into an HTML comment makes the link disappear to a casual viewer. But anyone who bothers to view the page's source code will see the original link. Worse - now it looks like someone's trying to cover their tracks, and doing an amateurish job of it.

The BBC article points out what should be terribly obvious: People you meet online are just as real as people you meet in a pub. They may not be who they say they are - but how many of us has run into a poser in the real world? That's another topic.

Or, maybe not so much.

I'm not sure what British English means by the phrase, "private or public-private, like the street, pub or cafe." The American analogs of those settings are familiar to me, though: and I learned long ago to be mildly guarded in what I say - when there's a really, really good chance that someone other than the person I'm talking to can overhear parts of the conversation.

That's simple good sense. There's the matter of being truthful and charitable - but that's another topic in another blog.

Reality 101: Words Matter

I think what gets many folks in trouble with their online shenanigans is a failure to recognize that (1) they're dealing with real people, (2) in a setting where people who do not belong to their little circle of like-minded acquaintances are likely to 'overhear' what's said.

And, as the BBC article points out, what's posted online tends to leave a highly-visible trail for those who bother to look.
A tip of the hat to TweetSmarter, on Twitter, for the heads-up on this article.

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