Much tweet-twoo about nothing

But I remember now
I am in this earthly world, where to do harm
Is often laudable, to do good sometime
Accounted dangerous folly

If only life came with an edit-button. Once you’ve invented something, it’s quite hard to un-invent it again, now matter how tempting it must be.

Such as, for example, Twitter. The bosses at the BBC must be rueing the day that Jack Dorsey sat and typed out on his smartphone the immortal words: “just set up my twittr”.

There’s a lot of nonsense spouted on the social media platform every day, much of it from me, but there’s also plenty of interesting people, sharing their thoughts and feelings and points of view. There’s news and links to articles, features, opinion pieces that you might not find just by reading the same media channels every day. Not all of those points of view will be palatable to every user. But that’s the point about opinion and discourse, it has to have some differences if it is to be interesting. Some of those points of view will be unpalatable to anyone with a brain and a shred of decency, of course. That’s what happens when you set up something that allows people to hide behind their computers, funny profile pictures and stupid user-names, they think that they can say anything and it won’t matter, or it won’t get traced back to them.

Setting aside the whole free-speech/hate-speech issue which is a lorryload of worm cans, none of which need to be opened here, the Gary Lineker vs the BBC tussle should cause some pause for thought amongst any business whose employees are social media posters. I’m not going to get into the issue of what was said, nor what Lineker was tweeting, either. Where I stand on that is neither here nor there really. The question that needs to be, at least considered is,  at what point does something that your employee (or someone working for you as a freelancer in Lineker’s case) says on their personal media profile become something that you need to be concerned about? The estate agent found to have been racially abusing Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, and Bukayo Saka after their appearance in the England squad at the Euro 220 final lost his job because his employer either didn’t want to employ someone who thinks it’s OK to do that, even outside the job, or, just as likely, didn’t want to risk their reputation from being associated with racist abuse.

For my part, I try to keep separate social media identities: there’s a work profile which links to the day job and tweets about industry stuff, then there’s the personal profile which gets very excited about sport, politics, litter and local traffic jams. Sometimes they get mixed up. Sorry.

It does I suppose all boil down to interpretation. Interpretation of what is being said, of why it is being said, under which circumstances, what’s in the contract/guidelines and whether those guidelines are being applied to everyone equally.

A good rule of thumb, and one I try to abide by but don’t always manage to get it right, is to think of Twitter as a crowded pub, where you don’t know everyone who is there. It’s probably best not to shout out something in that arena that you wouldn’t want to be heard by your elderly grandmother, the sexy person in accounts you quite fancy, or the person you’d like to be your next boss. At the very least, it’s probably worth having the conversation with your employees, and making sure everyone knows what the lines are, and where they are drawn.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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