To post, or not to post: that is the question. Once a post, message or tweet is published, it is virtually impossible to undo. In these digital days, information becomes public in the blink of an eye. But, how much of ourselves do we really want publicly shared? As much as we’d like to think we’re in the age of ‘life as an open book’, privacy and digital surveillance are very hot topics.
Take the Fourth Amendment, which protects us from unreasonable search and seizure when we have a “reasonable expectation of privacy”. However, some argue that living out our lives and communications digitally forfeits that reasonable expectation of privacy by the very nature of us putting ourselves out there in the public domain. Since we have entrusted our personal information to the various social media tools we’ve signed up for, essentially we agree that we don’t consider that personal information private – right? Oh, and since we’re also aware that surveillance exists, we expect our personal information may be tapped at any time – or do we?Word of mouth is the oldest form of verbal communication in an analog world. Think of all those stories you used to hear about from your grandparents – you know, the ones about them walking to school in the snow uphill for five miles barefoot – stories passed down through generations. While the means and methods of story telling and sharing may have evolved, the essence of communicating information has not. In our digital landscape, social media itself is an amazingly powerful communication tool.
Good social media relies on the freedom of credible, reliable and transparent information. Twitter set a precedent in June of 2009 during the Iran elections when they took a stance in defense of freedom of speech. On December 14, 2010, Twitter found itself once again at the center of the digital surveillance topic when the US DoJ issued a subpoena, and accompanying gag-order, to release the names – including personal information of user’s home and IP addresses; bank account and credit card numbers; telephone numbers; and screen names – of more than six hundred thousand Twitter users who had been ‘followers’ of WikiLeaks. This was the first bit of actual evidence of the government’s alleged espionage case against WikiLeaks and Julian Assange.
For Twitter to comply, they would have essentially gone back on their position from 2009, a move that likely would have been seen by the public as pandering to the DoJ. They appealed the gag-order to disclose the ask to it’s users – and won. It is rumored that both Facebook and Google received similar orders, and may have compromised their user lists as a result.
We see more and more stories in the news everyday of how social media tools and entities like these are changing the landscape with real-time publishing of information, across boarders and time zones, and affecting change. Just last week the Tunisian government was overthrown by its citizen revolutionaries, and Twitter was again at the center of the debate over whether it sparked revolution, or simply reported it. Either way, it marks an important reality that social media tools have changed the way the world works – and now that the lines between public and private have become so blurred, this impact must be understood now more than ever.
With so many headlines referencing the debate over privacy breached, it can be intimidating for brands to take the plunge into social media. The key is – rather than avoid online engagement altogether, companies might consider defining their social media parameters and proactively establish privacy policies of their own to address potential concerns of their stakeholders.