Views are strictly my own . .

“These views are all my own and not my employers”

Many people have this statement or variations of it in their twitter biography. And it’s very easy to see why. Twitter is a great tool for both professional networking, and personal socialisation. It is possible to set up multiple twitter accounts, but most people have just the one and use it for both of these activities, tweeting sometimes socially, sometimes professionally and very often in a hybrid format which combines the professional and social in the same way as a coffeebreak at a conference.

This rider about personal views seems quite comforting at first. It appears to set up a buffer between your absolute professional self (the one which gets up and goes to work and is focused on what needs doing and expects a paycheck rather than a P45 at the end of each month), and your private persona who may be a bit feister, a bit more feckless, a bit more knockabout, a bit more random or whatever else you are when you are not ‘working’.  The quasi-legalistic phrase thus functions as a kind of mantra or prayer in the biography of the twitter user, an offering to the gods of social media to ensure that what happens on twitter stays on twitter.

The only flaw with this is…the whole thing.  First off, just because something sounds impressive and a bit legal does not make it so. Secondly how many employers, faced with an employee who brought them into disrepute through their tweets would get scared off by reading ‘tweets are all my own views. not my employers’? In other words, do these words offer any real protection or are they just comforting but ultimately useless.

If you used your twitter account only for personal tweets you may stand a chance of defending yourself, but if you are in that very common space where personal and professional are intermingled so closely that it is not clear where one stops and the other starts, then it would be very easy for your employer to argue that you have used your professional standing to build your network of followers and therefore the same rules on professional conduct should apply to this as to your engagements in real (non social media) life. Lee Davies argues here  in an excellent posting, that personal and professional identities go beyond dichotomy or trichotomy and are multichotomous, that is we construct and present many versions of our selves using social media, and the more selves we have, the more likely we are going to run into problems as Blackadder did in the episode where he tried to have a riotous drinking competition in one room and have his puritan aunt and uncle to dinner in another (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=krgUVduKFL4)

I won’t go into the many very real problems which professionals (including teachers) have got into using twitter. Suffice to say that balancing a social media identity for someone working in a school is very hard as public perception of their ‘teaching persona’ will inevitably govern judgements about how they behave on social media.

The issue here is that social media is a phenomenon of the 21st century.  Social networks can be seen as an embodied form of postmodern theory which states that there is no such thing as a single identity, but rather people are created from a constantly overlapping myriad of identities where very little is stable. These identities are rooted not in the tangible physical world, but rather in the slippier world of language, where the discursive structures we create do far more to define us than our physical characteristics. But your employer is not a post modernist, they are still very much of the 20th century and likely to judge your tweets as belonging to a single coherent self, a single coherent self having to account for why you sent particular tweets which have not gone down well with HR.  You could try a Lacanian defence if you do end up in hot water, but you probably won’t get very far.

So I conclude, twitter is like russian roulette.  Somewhere there’s a particular combination of 140 characters that you are going to tweet and seconds later your torso will slump on your computer keyboard as you realise you’ve just pulled the trigger on a live round and shot yourself in the head.  Protecting your tweets is not a solution either, you should still assume with protected tweets that everyone can read them all the time as they can be copied, screen-shotted, RTed and so on despite the protection. The only genuinely safe use of twitter is to never tweet.  The network is so public, so ‘out there’, so resistant to erasure, so difficult to stop, pause or control. Tweets take seconds on the keyboard, but an ill judged one may live with you for years.

Image courtesy of Flickr from cinnamon_girl.  Licenced under creative commons, original is available here.

12 thoughts on “Views are strictly my own . .

  1. A thought provoking post!

    It’s not just a P45 that your tweets could bring you.

    This article (I googled for the article, there are probably more with different takes on the story) from earlier this year tells of a chap who was prosecuted for swearing on Twitter. (Warning, the article contains profanity)

    http://liberalconspiracy.org/2012/04/15/tweeter-harassed-and-prosecuted-for-swearing/

    Of course, the chap was a political protester, obviously under observation from the start and not just a happy go lucky tweeter but the point is made well. There is provision under “Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003” to prosecute those who publish offensive material.

    Even before reading that article, I developed a habit of adding a caveat (as above) when my own blog posts contained profanity but I doubt that would stop me from being prosecuted for writing them – should I come under the same scrutiny as @sir_olly_c.

    That being said, swearing on twitter is not the only way you could get into trouble with the law, as this article reminds us: http://bit.ly/KDIh7m

    The eyes of the law seem to be humourless when viewing online activity and certain things that are tweeted in jest could result in far more trouble than you might think.

    • thanks for reading the post and taking the time and trouble to comment. The examples you list here are pertinent to the argument. As you say, the law and forces of authority may be humourless when viewing social media activity, and what is a brilliant joke to some could be a criminal offence to others…

  2. Pingback: Profanity in Social Media – Can We Speak Our Minds? « Armaitus on…

  3. I use that phrase disingenuously in my bio as I don’t rely on it. I am open about who I work for. I use Twitter professionally and personally. Most of my followers are within the same areas of technology or education but many aren’t. For me the only way that Twitter works is to be myself. It also helps when you meet people in person.That doesn’t mean all of my tweets have been sickly sweet. I can be very direct about current affairs and educational matters but I will always err on the side of caution. After all who knows where that tweet could end up…..

    • thanks for commenting, and you raise an important point about ‘authenticity’ and being oneself. The thing which kicked this blog off was a conversation with someone who knew me pretty well on twitter who I met for the first time in person. Their comment was that they enjoyed my tweeting but they felt that often I was pretty close to the edge and sometimes a bit dangerous. I was a bit surprised by this, but on reflection knew what they meant, as like you, I am often direct and I do tweet about my political views which I know others take pains to keep out of twitter. The blog posting was therefore an exercise in imagining the worst, thinking how wrong twitter could go. I have been surprised by how many people rather than disagreeing with me vehemently and arguing that twitter is a force for good and that I have overstated its danger, have actually agreed. All of which goes to show that caution is, after all, probably a good idea…

  4. The phrase “Views are my own” seems to mostly originate from a longer phrase “Views are my own and not of the BBC” as when Twitter started and many celebrities got on board there was a need (from them and from the BBC and other channels/programmes) to make it clear to fans that although they are a personality on tv or radio they are tweeting as themselves. Others tweet in a professional capacity seperately because their channel has paid them to do so (or made it part of their job) – many SkyNews reporters have professional accounts and Tweet as their SkyNews personas.

    So the need for putting this in the biog was there – and still is there – for celebrities. They have an account they get paid to run and use (BBCRadio tweets) and their personal (CHRISDJMOYLES) . So the need to differentiate here is clear. However much Chris Moyles gets in trouble for the stuff he says on air he is still much more restrained when talking on the radio or tweeting as the official twitter account of the show than he is on his personal account or in person elsewhere.

    Many people have taken the phrase and used it as they think it is a legal thing or offers protection but as you stated it does not. Unless you are a celeb or have two accounts you are known for using – your @schoolname and your @mypersonal account – then it is unnecessary and can be the equivalent of wearing a crash helmet when skiing – the dangers are still there you just feel (probably wrongly) a bit more invincible!

  5. 140 word are a very few to express a think sometimes, and they can’t show what you would say. But the person is a unity, there are not a worker the 9 to 5 and after you close him in a box and you teak off a holiday’s person, two persons are the same. And I think it would compresible that they will not enlisted an environmentalist in a whaling, for example.
    Otherwise we are responsible for our words, and the words mean based on the context. But twitter don’t have context and words can easily be misinterpreted. This isn’t a new. How many problems have created words spoken to some friends in to a pub listened to the wrong person. We aren’t aware who are listening and we talk too, even we have right.
    We must think that we are masters of our silences, our words, but slaves of (popular).

  6. Hi Matt, funny stumbling on this, was just wondering earlier today if ‘being myself’ on twitter is such a good idea. I love hooking up with education people but i like the knock about stuff. one loony troop i follow were tweeting porn parody film titles which i was dying to RT as some were hilarious but then you think..hmm what if someone high up in the organisation i work for sees this. maybe an alias would be better way to go.
    Frank (recently follow).

    • an alias could work, but only if you could always keep it a secret that it belonged to you, and I think that the chances of slipping up and revealing yourself (or someone doing it for you, either out of malice or ignorance), are very high. The alias may give a false sense of security too…. Thanks very much for taking the time to read the blog and comment..

  7. Pingback: COM0011 Post#3 — Disclaimers: Does it protect me? | Algonquin College Social Media Certificate Program

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