Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Thanks for sharing

Once upon a time, the Brits were a reserved bunch. We thought talking about our emotions was indulgent and vulgar. Grief was something to be indulged in privately, behind a mountain of hastily-made sandwiches. And the closest thing to a PDA between father and son would be a bone-crushingly firm handshake.

Now look at us. Been in therapy? Tell your friends all about it over lunch. Having a nervous breakdown? Time for a facebook status update. What next - posting self-portraits of ourselves doing the morning-after walk of shame on Flickr?

Our world-renowned stiff upper lip has been replaced with a loose tongue, and there's no such thing as TMI. We're all celebrities in our own little microcosms, and we know that our fans need regular updates.

Last week, Mel Wilson made the news, thanks to a constant stream of Tweets as she documented her entire 25-hour labour. Because there's nothing more fun than reading regular updates about a complete stranger's dilated cervix.

Apparently, Mel's husband Dylan is also a prolific tweeter, “though he did wait until after the baby was born to send out messages.” That may be the case, but I have a sneaking suspicion that, rather than pacing the waiting room and handing out cigars, he was busy seeding his wife's microblog via Reddit.

Don't get me wrong. I'm fully aware of the irony - a blogger slating someone else for writing about their every move, as though anyone should be interested. It's pot calling the kettle "hack".

But I wonder how often people stop to consider the suitability or relevance of the information they disseminate online. Given the fast-moving nature of modern communications, it's easy to fire off messages and naively assume they'll be gone in a nanosecond.

Maybe that's what Sarah Baskerville thought when she complained to the PCC about the Daily Mail and Independent on Sunday reprinting her tweets, in articles relating to her role within the Department of Transport. She argued that the use of her tweets "constituted an invasion of privacy", since her messages were only meant to be seen by her 700 followers.

The press regulator disagreed, quite rightly arguing that Twitter is a publicly accessible forum, and that users have little or no control over what gets retweeted.

At the same time, there are genuine concerns about the fact that some newsgathering organisations are willing to overlook privacy laws in pursuit of a story. But claims like this only serve to undermine the more worthwhile cases. Ultimately, you can't reasonably complain that big brother is watching, if you insist on getting undressed without drawing the blinds.

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