I happened to be at the San Francisco 49er game against the Seattle Seahawks on Thanksgiving, a game that, for most of us in the Bay Area, we would like to forget. At the end of the game, 49er’s owner Jed York tweeted the following message:
Thank you for coming out strong tonight. This performance wasn’t acceptable. I apologize for that.
The Bay Area sports talk shows have been all a-twitter about how an owner could throw his team under the bus even if they performed poorly or whether this was an intentional comment to lay the groundwork for getting rid of their controversial coach. My personal belief is this was sent at a point of emotional frustration and, if Jed York had to do it over again, he would not have created a tweet of this nature that turned out to be very controversial.
However, the idea of putting your own foot in your mouth is not new. I am sure people have been doing this for centuries. However, in this digital age, foot-in-mouth disease can spread at the speed of light if it is put on Twitter or Facebook.
It seems folks in the sports industry are famous for this disease. In May a Miami Dolphins player was fined for negative tweets about Michael Sams, the first openly gay pro football player. Major league Baseball has also levied fines for tweets. And the NBA has also been active in imposing fines on players for inflammatory rhetoric aimed at other players.
However, others are not immune to this either. Remember Anthony Weiner, the politician who was caught “sexting” tweets to various women when he was in Congress? He did not seem to learn from that experience and had more sexting problems when he ran for mayor of NYC.
Commedian Gilbert Godfried lost his Aflac job because of a tweet. Actor Ashton Kutcher tweeted support for Penn State coach Joe Paterno and ended up deleting the tweet and apologizing for it.
I could give dozens of more examples of tweets gone bad but perhaps everyone needs to come to grips with the fact that, whatever is put on Facebook or Twitter or any other social media site, it is there pretty much for eternity. Even if you delete it that info it has been recorded on the Wayback site that has recorded over 450 billion of Web pages over time. Also there is a good possibility the site you post it on has to keep that info for legal purposes too.
Then there is the issue of liability and libel. There have been many stories over the years about the potential legal issues of liability and libeleous comments posted on social media sites.
I no longer see these as idle threats. We who write for a living have this issue of liability and libel beaten into our conscience from our early school days and are extra careful when it comes to these issues. That lesson needs to be taught to everyone who posts on any social media site too.
I personally come from the old school. I was taught if I say anything about another person make sure it is good, not bad. That does not mean I am not critical at times but in those cases I try and do it diplomatically and without malice of any kind. I also have a rule of thumb I try to follow to the letter — do not tweet when I am angry or emotional about a subject. I make myself stop and think hard before I tweet in that state. I also have found I am not naturally a humorous person and what I think is funny may not be appropriate for others.
With this in mind, I am very interested in what what our readers have in the way of their own rules, recommendations or guidelines about what they tweet or post.
I would love to hear from as many folks that have the time to simply weigh in on your rules and suggestions you follow when you post on social media.
I’d like to play the role of Miss Manners and collect as many suggestions I can get about posting etiquette and personal rules people have and will circle back and post them in a broader column I would like to do in a few weeks about proper etiquette for social media posts. Any suggestions or commentary is appreciated.
5 thoughts on “Keep a lid on your Cybermouth”
People are having a problem with Twitter because the nature of Twitter (a permanent archive visible to the world, in the form of MMS messages) mixes up the signals about what kind of speech it’s supposed to be for.
Speech (in whatever form) has always had a spectrum between formal, considered, official “pronouncements”, and informal, unofficial, “shooting the breeze.” The first gets paid attention to and needs to be carefully considered, the second is “just talk” and can be thoughtless. There’s always been cases where formal and informal talk get mixed up, where officials seek plausible deniability by issuing informal orders (eg, “will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?”) or find themselves embroiled in a scandal for saying something impolitic in front of witnesses.
Before writing, formal speech happened when someone in power said something in a public setting (from the throne, or from the temple threshold). And informal speech happened when the setting was private or the speakers had no power. It gets more complicated as the number of positions of authority grows, but for thousands of years we had writing to help us tell the difference — permanent speech (what got written down and saved) acquired importance, and impermanent speech (everything else) lost importance.
So now on the internet, everyone’s casual and unimportant speech gets expressed in written form. But until Twitter and its social media cousins came along, we still had the standards of permanence and publicness to help parse things – IMs were impermanent and private, Websites were public and more or less permanent. Social media at first created a distinction between public posts and private “friends locked” posts, but then Facebook engaged in a steady campaign of changing more and more default settings from friends locked to public, creating confusion and resentment in its users, and creating cases of people getting in trouble for saying informal things on facebook that then get noticed and seen by the public at large.
Twitter is even more incoherent than facebook. It takes IMs (a form that everyone agrees is private and non-serious) and posts them to a permanent public web archive. So the problem isn’t that people are saying thoughtless things on the internet — now that everyone conducts so much of their social interactions online, we are all saying thoughtless things on the internet all the time. It’s that Twitter’s fundamental nature (permanent public IMs), flouts the social conventions that help us figure out what kind of speech is appropriate where.
On the one hand, new standards will eventually evolve for what counts as public important speech and what counts as “shooting the breeze” with friends. So far we’ve been using the pre-internet standards of publicness and permanence, and they haven’t been serving us very well.
On the other hand, Twitter and Facebook and other social media sites are being run by rhetorical ignoramuses, people who like to express contempt for the very concept of privacy. They are playing with fire. The public speech/private speech distinction is ancient, and I doubt that sites that ignore or deliberately trample rhetorical conventions and rules set up over millenia are going to benefit in the long term.
My rules (ultimately all variations on a theme):
Avoid politics and religion topics
Never post when emotions are uncontrollably strong
No matter your privacy settings, always assume everyone can read everything you post, _everything_ is irrevocably “on the record” by default
If you wouldn’t say something to someone’s face, don’t post either
Be sincere, i.e. don’t be a persona online (unless it is your job) that is different from who you are in real life. Example, if you are the kind of person who doesn’t give a sh*t in person, you can be that way online.
Some conversations are best in person. Be discerning.
Or be enigmatic and metaphorical at all times.
If I wouldn’t say it face to face I don’t say it on twitter. Period.
…of the sprightly, radially-targeted variety, shoehorned within a mail armor of empathy. Let one’s given level of insight, thus unencumbered with petty-friction’s resistance to ‘on-the-sheer-merit-of-it’ Gravity, fall where, on a message recipient’s consciousness, it may. When, wherever applicable, then and there notwithstanding; commit.
When, wherever not…, then and there naught withstanding; omit…
I rarely post anything on Twitter, don’t have a Facebook account so most of my online posting is in comment forums like Ars Technica or here on Techpinions. If my viewpoint is very different from the majority of comments I will post. I try not to just post a ‘me too’ type of comment.