I want to begin with the story of a group of teachers from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in Charlotte, N.C who got in trouble for Facebook. They each had pages on the growing social networking site and each posted a variety of inappropriate comments about their students, their school and their job. Some posted inappropriate pictures of vulgar poses and inebriation. Many parents found this behavior quite unacceptable, and one parents commented that she expected this type of behavior “from teenagers and not teachers.” Teachers have images to uphold, after all, and they shouldn’t tarnish this over the Internet, right? Leaders of the CMS school district took appropriate action and terminated some of their employees. While this story might be two years old, the message remains the same: how public do you want to make yourself regardless of it you have “an image” to uphold?
In her welcoming keynote address at the 2010 SXSW Interactive in Austin, Texas, Danah Boyd discussed the idea of “privacy and publicity.” Boyd goes on to define that what is public shouldn’t always be publicized. She talks about differentiating between “PII and PEI:” The former, Personally Identifiable Information, is information that people are more comfortable with sharing, what they want others to know and how they want others to find them online. The latter, Personally Embarrassing Information, is what most people want kept secret–it may get into the hands of someone who would use the information mischievous.
But now, from a public relations standpoint, how are practitioners supposed to handle this idea of public versus privacy? With the developing simplicity of anybody to log on the Internet and post about themselves, the ethics of any PR practitioner is highly challenged as he or she must distinguish between what is necessary and what is excessive information to use.
In Boyd’s address, she says that “people regularly calculate both what they have to lose and what they have to gain when entering public situations.” In essence, people aren’t stupid. They know what they’re getting themselves into.
It’s all in the morals of the practitioner, I believe, as to how “limiting” public information is in developing any campaign, etc. A practitioner could be presented with an array of personal information about somebody, but that information (morally) shouldn’t be used, as it could be permanently harming to that individual and his or her reputation.
To the individuals themselves: be conscious of what you do online. You’re putting your information out into a world that can make you go viral in seconds. Literally. The teachers from Charlotte learned the hard way.
While you might not have bad intentions, be aware that you could, as Boyd puts it: “find [yourselves] in a lot of trouble in ways that [you] weren’t expecting.”