It may not shock some of you to know that I’m of a vintage that was able to take advantage of Gough Whitlam’s free tertiary education revolution that lingered well into the 80s.
But I was also young enough to enjoy studying some of the newer curricula of media studies including journalism and broadcasting – at the time the only media that would allow you to reach thousands of people or more simultaneously.
And with that capability came responsibility. And didn’t our lecturers let us know it!
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Both courses included units on the various legal requirements of broadcasting and journalism – defamation, libel, obscenity, privacy, vilification of minority groups, fact checking and so on.
So before we broadcast a breath or had the ink dry on our prose, we were a full bottle on anything that might cause our respective broadcasters or publishers any embarrassment or worse – legal action.
Freedom of speech and carelessness
To anyone of this vintage and background then, it never ceases to astonish and bewilder that so many public social networkers can command audiences once only publishers and broadcasters could command without so much as a crash course in responsible publishing.
Not that I’m advocating for one second that social networking should be locked up behind a labyrinth of regulation and licensing.
It’s more a case of ‘knowing what we know’ – that so much power and influence in unsuspecting hands can lead to devastating consequences.
As this blog has raised before, social networking is more than just what most technology enables – doing old things better.
Social networking is a completely new thing – the notion of holding conversations with many people simultaneously.
This is simply an unprecedented capability – if you perhaps discount CB radio of the 70s which did this in a less permanent way. That is, once something was broadcast over this now relatively primitive medium, it wasn’t still there for everyone to see.
With social networking, the conversation remains available for all permitted parties to see, consider and potentially be offended by – at least till someone with the authority, including the author herself, removes it.
Even then they can’t be sure that pages haven’t been copied in some way for future reference and possible evidence.
Guilty your honour
I mean who hasn’t posted a comment without fully considering which of your friends, or your friends’ friends, might be offended by it?
Or perhaps it’s something that really shouldn’t be shared so publicly at all.
And before you reach for the delete key, someone somewhere has an indelible copy.
The virtual horse has bolted.
If you are an employee, a stray post can lose you your job, as many are starting to find out the hard way. Or even land you in jail, like this poor fellow.
Business conversations and ramifications
In business, the ramifications can be even more profound. A poorly judged post, tweet or comment by anyone representing a business can soon have journalists leaping for their own keyboards to provide the kind of bad publicity business owners can have nightmares about.
On the other hand, who wants such a powerful and spontaneous medium to be held to ransom by cumbersome and time-consuming approval processes?
The access to a wide audience and the ease with which any comment can be recorded for posterity makes social networking a powerful but potentially dangerous medium for the careless, the uneducated or the just plain ignorant.
And providing yet another headache for the already overwhelmed smaller business operator.
In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond.