I’ve been having a long think about whether social media needs policing.
I think in many ways it does. And in many ways, it doesn’t. You shouldn’t have someone vetting your Tweets any more than they should qualify your crossword mistakes in a public place.
But we do need hand-holding. Absolutely clear on that. My earlier post on social media regulation spoke to this idea, and I’d encourage you to go check that out if you can.
Anyway, I took this to my regular newspaper column. I wanted to gauge if it meant anything to anyone else.
Contrary to popular opinion, unless you write columns decrying vulnerable communities you don’t get a bulging postbag. I’ve had a few Facebook comments after the column was published, but they have absolutely nothing to do with the column itself – just the odd cat picture (aren’t all cat pictures odd?) and a quote from Plato.
But do you like the headline? I made it up myself. It’s not the first time I’ve put 999 and social media together before: my missus works for the emergency services and her Twitter ID is @999socialmedia. Like it?
Anyway, about that column.
There have been some decidedly dodgy things going in the digital world these past few days. I’m not just talking about me buying a handset powered by Windows Phone 8. You probably saw that was on the cards, what with my blatant bias against any mobile device with half-eaten fruit on its bum.
I’m talking about social networking. And I was talking about this on BBC Radio Merseyside last week after some things happened on Twitter that left one chap in hot water with police, and reminded the rest of us to apply common sense online.
If you’re a fan of social media, I’m sure you’ll be aware that unless you have a PhD in privacy options, things you post can be shared with everyone.
Where I think many people take a break from sanity is when they forget what sharing means in this connected world of ours.
There are more than 500 million people on Twitter. Double that on Facebook.
Post something inflammatory or downright fascinating as a status update on Twitter, as opposed to a direct message (banter between you and the recipient alone), and it’ll spread like wildfire. I advise you not to try this, because that potential audience of yours is gigantic. There’s a great way to see what I mean without causing havoc – tweetreach.com shows you many people might have seen your most popular messages.
It’s staggering to think how quickly the internet has changed our lives, but in the grand scheme of things the world wide web is still very much in its youth.
Which means as users we’re in learning mode. In much the same way you wouldn’t mix water with electricity in science class, you should apply caution before sharing information online.
While I want you to bear this in mind, I don’t want to scaremonger. Without the internet, there would be no Dave Thackeray column. That aside, the web has given freedom of speech to many thousands of people living in impossible circumstances under the shadow of repressive regimes. It has brought the best education to everyone, and you can watch Hairy Bikers any time you like.
And who would have thought two middle-aged men, hair flapping in the wind, would have been such a big hit?
But virality isn’t restricted to moving pictures, or big brands. And noone truly understands how something gets popular on the internet.
Here lies my concern: you never really know when something you say is going to ‘go viral’ – for good, or bad.
We’ve all heard of the social media faux pas: a topical joke that offended a nation. The complaint about a customer that got someone fired. The report of a minor product defect causing a Twitition (a petition on Twitter) that brought a company to its knees.
We’re enormously naive to the power we wield online. In leaving digital footprints that can often be seen by anyone, we’re all becoming publishers – but we often overlook the responsibilities that entails.
Most of the time this sharing of knowledge is incredibly empowering and valuable, but sometimes through our lack of understanding of our impact, we can unwittingly cause one heck of a stir.
As social networkers, it’s not clear exactly how and when regulations will be imposed upon us. Until they come, common sense is the only rule.
It’s simple: Don’t post anything online you wouldn’t shout in a pub.
Or show to a police officer. Because at the end of the day, if you wouldn’t, and you post, you might be meeting them sooner than you think.
Enjoyed this lesson for content strategy success? Get in touch on Twitter @davethackeray and let me know your thoughts.