When I was ten and the Internet was in its early stages of development – Google didn’t exist yet – I remember logging on to a chat room with my friends and pretending to be 20 year old male. Although we managed to keep up the charade for a good 15 minutes, we eventually exposed our true identities.
After that experience, I became fascinated with the concept that the Internet allowed me to become anyone. I could be a middle aged man who owned a fish and chip shop, or an elderly Grandma who liked to bake cookies. The sky was the limit. The Internet gave me freedom to express my true opinions without repercussions because I was truly anonymous. I would never be held accountable for my opinions.
The online anonymity was at the front of my mind again when it was raised at the social media masterclass. David Pembroke made everyone promise to acknowledge that we were all publishers, Craig Thomler told us that we were all journalists – we all reported news, and Greg Jericho said that no one was anonymous online – everything is and can be connected. All were highlighting that we can, and will, be held accountable for anything we distribute on the Internet. Every blog comment, twitter post and YouTube video we upload can all be traced back to our physical selves.
So what has changed since I was ten to stop us from becoming truly anonymous online? Besides improvement in tracking technologies, our personal and professional lives have become entwined.
Before the adoption of mobile technology, when someone left work at the end of the day, they also left their professional attitudes behind. In today’s society we can be contacted 24/7, in fact there are more active mobile phones in Australia than people. It is hard to determine when we start and stop being professionals and start and stop being private citizens. Often the online communication tools we use for work are the same as the ones we use to stay in touch with friends and family, which further distorts the boundaries of our professional and private lives.
As our professional and private lives gradually interweave, it creates a dilemma for our employers. How do they let employees share both private and professional information on social networks without the employee discrediting themselves, their professional position or the organisation they work for? At the moment the jury is still out on this one. As Greg mentioned, the Australian Public Service has strict guidelines about how employees are advised to participate and engage with social media, while the ABC is more lenient with their guidelines. Both sets of guidelines have their merits and their flaws, but they both agree on a few key points:
- don’t disclose confidential information;
- don’t imply your personal views are the same as the organisations; and
- don’t release information that can compromise public confidence in the organisation.
If we can use social media intelligently and are supported by our workplaces, we can co-exist as both professional and personal digital citizens. Unfortunately with the emergence of social media, there is not much room left for true anonymity, or a ten year old dreaming of expressing opinions without repercussions – everything has become transparent. It is something we need to acknowledge if we are to use social media appropriately.
President Obama was asked advice on how to become the next President by a 15 year old student. He said the following…
“ I want everybody here to be careful about what you post on Facebook — because in the YouTube age, whatever you do, it will be pulled up again later somewhere in your life.”
Views are my own.