Should tweets have real life consequences - Argus Friday 24th January 2016

Posted Monday 1st February 2016   By Ericka Waller

Cat works in a nursery. She does a great job and the kids all love her. She’s young and ambitious so puts long in long hours, which annoys her boyfriend Nathan. They break up. She goes for a week in the sun with her best friend Sam. They go to Playa de las Américas in Tenerife. At night they go out dancing. Sam photos Cat on the balcony before they head off down the Strip, and then later in the bar, two sunburnt faces grinning into the phone. More drinks, more photos. They meet some lads from Bournemouth and end up in a limbo competition on the beach at 5am. Upon her return, Cat’s boss calls her into the office. “The thing is Cat, there have been complaints from some parents while you were away”.

Her manager turns her computer screen round. Cat sees a photo of herself on Facebook. She is sprawled out on the beach, skirt ridden up, high-heels abandoned in the sand. Next to her is one of the blokes from Bournemouth. He’s got his hand on her exposed leg and they are both laughing.

“This photo has been seen by some of the parents. They are worried about the safety of their children while in your care”
the Manager says.

Cat is speechless. “I don’t understand, what has this got to do with me being good at my job?”

I attended a course this week about being safe online. I thought it was going to be about protecting passwords and security settings for children. I was wrong. It did include these things, but the real point of the session was about taking responsibility.

Had Cat done anything wrong by having a week of fun in the sun? Her private life is just that, isn’t it?

Justine Sacco, a 30 year-old Senior director of corporate communications at IAC, tweeted about her travels. During her layover at Heathrow, she wrote “Chilly, cucumber sandwiches, bad teeth. Back in London!” to her 170 followers. Before the final leg of her trip to Cape Town she wrote “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”

When she woke up after the 11 hour flight she was the No. 1 worldwide trend on Twitter,had lost her job and the hashtag #HasJustineLandedYet was all over the internet. She was not aware of any of this till she got off the plane and turned on her phone.

Did Justine ruin her life with 140 characters, or did we ruin her for making a mistake?

Social media comments can have colossal consequences. Facebook profiles are being studied to assess suitability for employment, and then as a monitoring tool.

Teachers often have to adopt a moniker to go online without pupils sniffing them out. Ofsted are now researching teachers online profiles before carrying out inspections.

Facebook photos are the media’s best friend. A murky snap for a suspect, and a smiling carefree one for a victim. Opinions are cast in a snapshot, from single frozen second.

Contempt of court (an act or omission calculated to interfere with the administration of justice) has been ruined by the internet and its ability to muddy anyone’s waters if waded in deep enough.

I know lots of people who only follow others online to laugh at them. Hell, I’ve been known to do it myself. Did I think it was bullying at the time? Of course not, but thinking about it in the light of the above makes me think differently.

There are options. Facebook is desperate for all photos and posts to be public. You can lock down your account pretty well (if you know how). There is talk of youths being able to delete their online history, and youthful mistakes online. (Thank the lord my puberty was not public or I’d probably not have this column today).

The internet is a wonderful tool, but needs to be used wisely. Whether we like it or not, what we put online can, and will be used against us in a court of law.

On a more cheerful note, I ran 10k in the shape of an elephant round Brighton and Hove this week with the awesome Chestnut Tree charity  runner Chris Robinson.

It involved trespassing on private property, and up and down parking spaces to make eyelashes. The trunk and legs involved sprinting up and down First Avenue and Brunswick Square. After a quick, breathless debate, we decided to keep our elephant female to save another long leg shape.

Finding animal shapes in local maps and then running them with mates is social, silly and super satisfying to put on Strava (scrap all I said above about being responsible online. When it comes to animal shaped running, it simply must go online, or it simply didn’t happen).

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