I feel I must preface this blog post with three facts.
1) The realization that what I write and post will be available for the world to see for generations terrifies me both personally and professionally.
2) Just like Jim Lebans discussed in Spark episode 76, 1 I too suffer from performance anxiety when engaging in social media.
3) I am a professional political communicator who must always prepare for the worst case scenario.
I will assume that point three shed some light on points one and two.
My fear of social media is not necessarily rooted in how it is used but in how it can be used. In my perfect world, constructivism would rule and social media posts would be measured against one’s own experiences. Sources would be verified and readers would take the time to understand any bias that may have influenced the social media post.
However, in our political world the experiences of others (social constructivism) influence decisions, in particular the decision on where to mark the X on Election Day. Anyone can start a social media conversation or campaign that can become an internet contagion – whether it is based on fact or fiction, just like Anders Colding-Jørgensen did with the Stork fountain. 2
It is this social constructivism that heightens my apprehension. Blending this with the lack of peer review, factual oversight or ethical standards (in extreme cases) which are more commonly associated with journalists from ‘mainstream’ media such as the Globe and Mail or CTV moves me from apprehension to fear.
In particular, knowing that voters are often influenced by the experiences of others coupled with the finality of those 140 characters hitting the twitter-verse without verification of fact or conscience is something we in the political world take very seriously.
Having gone through the process of trying to have Facebook sites taken down after campaigns are over, I know how difficult it can be to make something created in the social media realm actually go away. In fact, I hit so many walls when trying to eliminate an old twitter feed from a campaign that I simply gave up. Anyone with limited research skills could find old tweets from former candidates that are quite likely to have little or nothing to do with their current lives. Yet, their name will be forever associated with this point in time online.
In an extreme scenario last year my oldest daughter’s Facebook was hacked and copied, word for word, photo for photo. For a period of time there were two of her, but one was a fraud. We found out when one of her friends stumbled upon a tagged photo and eventually realized she was communicating with a stranger. We had to prove to Facebook that the copied page was not my daughter by producing some of the actual pictures that she had posted and describing to Facebook officials who some of her listed friends were and what friends they may have (when she was not logged in). After about two months of repeated communication to report the breach and countless attempts to contact the fraudster on our own, Facebook removed the copied page and blocked the user.
This was an eye opening lesson for me personally and professionally. It solidified my family policy that we post nothing we do not fully understand, accept no friends we cannot verify nor do we post stories or photos that we would not want to see on the evening news. Professionally it reminded me that people, comments or clips posted on social media may not be as they appear and that once something makes its way to the social media world there it will remain.
As the cartoon says, on the internet no one knows you’re a dog.
1 Young, N. (Producer). (2009, May 6). Spark: Episode 76. Toronto, ON: Canadian Broadcast Corporation.
2 Young, N. (Producer). (2009, May 6). Spark: Episode 76. Toronto, ON: Canadian Broadcast Corporation.