This is reprinted from my editorial in Database Weekly.
During some recent conversations, I’ve noticed an increasing tendency for people to precede a disclosure or opinion with a proviso such as “Please don’t tweet/blog about this, but…” It’s an interesting indication that, with the advent and growth of social media, has come an increasing concern that today’s private conversation may turn into tomorrow’s world-wide Tweet.
Before social media, there seemed to be greater confidence that the ‘unwritten rule’ of confidentiality would be respected, or perhaps just less fear of the consequences if it wasn’t. For example, if I share a confidence with a co-worker, telling him or her that I think a manager in a different division of our company is lazy and not pulling his weight, then I take a calculated risk by sharing my opinion. However, I would generally expect everyone participating in the conversation to honor that confidence, without the need to specifically request it. In the days before social media, the worst that might happen if the implied confidence was breeched was that the manager in question would find out, causing some hard feelings, but most likely not any significant negative consequences.
However, in a world where anyone can publish anything they want, and at virtually the speed of light, it’s possible that my opinion of the lazy manager could find its way onto Twitter, LinkedIn, or FaceBook and reach hundreds, if not thousands of people. The consequences could be devastating to me, perhaps even resulting in me losing my job.
So what should we do now that we live in the new world of social media? Do we censor conversations with our friends? Should we ask our friends specifically not to repeat what we say? In addition, are we, as participants in this social media revolution, taking enough care to ensure that what we post won’t embarrass someone, or show them in an unintentionally bad light?