Sharing on social media – advice for users
While the war of words regarding Twitter bowing to censorship pressure from dictatorial governments continues to rage, the UK is continuing to celebrate a thus-far uninterrupted right to free speech when it comes to social media. The latest example of this is the UK Supreme Court, which is getting with the times in quite a spectacular fashion, with a new Twitter account sharing the verdicts of trials to the micro-bloggersphere, in real time.
In the last few years, social media has revolutionised the way trials occur, with both positive and negative effects. Jurors found crowdsourcing their personal verdicts are forbidden from returning to the trial and face the charge of contempt of court, while popular and high profile trials live-blogged in real time (such as the ongoing Leveson enquiry) have increased public awareness, generated debate and discussion and provided a reliable reporting source, not to mention a spike in traffic for the reporting site.
But members of the legal profession, and indeed the journalists on trial at Leveson, are sceptical about the value that Twitter adds or detracts from the systems it is revolutionising. And their concerns can give good suggestions for considerations you should have when using a social network to broadcast and share your thoughts.
Make your intentions clear - When you create a public profile such as one on a social network, you’re often required to enter a snippet of personal information about yourself and your intentions for your use of the platform. This acts not only as a useful introduction for other users, but allows you to add any disclaimers that you want, such as the simple phrase ‘all views are my own’ that is often found on the Twitter bios of people who are employed by big-name brands. Conversely, if your account is representative of a certain brand, make sure that is made clear.
Check your facts - By tweeting about a trial, albeit a trial that is public to attend, you’re placing what is often a complex legal decision in public property, open to snap judgement due to lack of proportion, context and prior knowledge. This is an issue that all social network users have encountered – as speed is everything, responding or sharing a piece of information before checking your facts has landed many users (no doubt even you or I) in trouble, simply for saying a foolish comment in the heat of the moment or sharing an incorrect or factually unfounded piece of information.
Be mindful of associations - By associating yourself with a particular high profile account or source, you give indications about your political inclinations. While it’s perfectly legitimate to hold with one opinion regarding an issue that interests you while having no agreement or awareness of the source’s thoughts on other issues, the internet is a judgemental place, and you potentially expose yourself to damaging assumptions.
Remember who’s watching - With the widespread integration of social network platforms (pin a Facebook photo that you took and edited on Instagram to Pinterest) it’s often very hard to track what you’ve said where. Do you declare your Twitter handle on LinkedIn? Does your Facebook page link to your blog? Could anything that is said on any of your platforms damage your standing at work, upset an associate or damage a friendship? The internet is rife with stories of employees sharing work dissatisfactions and finding themselves unceremoniously and often publicly fired as a result.
Be consistent - Confusing the nature of your account can be damaging not only for your personal profile, but for your potential standing on social media itself. All the target audiences you’re trying to appeal to, be they clients, employers or peers, can track whatever you chose to show them as far as they choose to. And while your blog may say one thing, your Twitter feed could potentially say another. Consistency across all platforms is key if you use your social networks as tools to support or enhance your professional standing.