Do I need a disclaimer just to have a bad day?

The first Digital Citizens event tonight was a robust discussion on personal versus private online. The title of the evening was Private Parts: Personality and Disclosure – Finding a Balance in the Digital Space. Surprisingly it was the lawyer on the panel, Adrian Dayton (of Social Media for Lawyers) who was sounding like the ad man encouraging people to establish their personal brand and get it all out there on twitter. Sam North of Ogilvy PR, was reminding people of their contractual obligations to their employers and clients with words of warning to not speak badly about them. But, as ever in the social media space the lines quickly become hard to define. As soon as he described Ogilvy’s social media guidelines Damian Damjanovski of BMF spoke of one’s digital footprint, and that if we are active on social media platforms we will become traceable someway or another regardless of privacy settings on the content of accounts. The discussion then turned into what should one disclaim in their profiles: do you disclaim who you work for? Do you express the views as yours and not representative of your employer?

What was most interesting to me, was the discussion and difference of opinion on whether social media spaces like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook are publishing or conversation. Damien Damjanovski was a conversationalist; Sam North was of the opinion that as soon as you put something online you are publishing, and by entering the public domain you are availing yourself to be quoted, scrutinised, sued for defamation and have your Facebook photos printed in the Sydney morning Herald. Renai LeMay from Delimiter was a journalist trying to toe the publishing and ethics line. While he would freely quote a public figure’s tweet in an article he would only use an image found online if it was published under creative commons. He added that a journalist should go to the primary source of material they are using to verify its accuracy if nothing else. So at this point in the night the debate became one based on the premise that if we are putting ourselves out there publicly how can this content be used and how do we feel about that use (and vulnerability).

I side with the publishing angle myself and by that I mean that posting something online is a form of publication by its inherent distribution. Having said (and contradicting) that, I feel it is completely inappropriate for a newspaper to obtain a photograph from a social network because that photograph is from an entirely different context to the story. Who is the publisher? This was not explored in tonight’s discussion at the event but it did get me thinking. Part of the reason why the likes of Facebook and Tumblr claim copyright on your material is so that they can have the right to distribute your material which is what they are doing when you post content to them. While I think it is wrong of newspapers to delve into Facebook for pictures to illustrate their stories I think that the users of these platforms should take issue with Facebook as much as they may take issue with the journalist and the newspaper. Surely it is Facebook’s responsibility to protect its copyright as a means to protect its users. What should users expect of the social networks they participate in?

I could go on but I think the debate will continue at the next Digital Citizens event.

N.B. The hashtag for this event was #digicitz. The title of this post is paraphrased from a tweet on that stream.

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