Be Careful What You Put In Writing

Ian Capstick wrote yesterday about an online bust-up between National Post technology reporter David George-Cosh and marketing consultant April Dunford on Twitter.

All of the gory details are over on Ian’s site; I’m not interested in piling-on to either side of this. However, it does raise one very important reminder, which I coincidentally posted on Twitter the other day:

Be careful what you put in writing

Given April’s comments on Ian’s blog post, I suspect (though can’t confirm) that both of them regret the incident (indeed, the National Post has apologized). However, they will now be captured in Google and it’s cache for a long time thanks to the blog posts that have sprung up around it and the widespread reaction to those posts.

Most of us have written, and subsequently regretted, things in the past. Perhaps not as bad as yesterday’s example, but this a useful reminder that:

  1. When you post something online, you’re not just talking to one other person – you’re potentially talking to tens, hundreds or even thousands of people.
  2. What you write may be out there forever, whether you like it or not.

What’s your take on this situation?

  • Absolutely agree. I’ve been counseling both my 15 year old daughter and my newly Facebook-smitten wife that the Google cache is forever. Once it’s out, you can’t pull it back.

    But in this particular case, my read of the tweets is that the reporter didn’t *get* that they were in public. Maybe he thought it was IM. Still, anything digital can be copied and posted and cached forever, so the rule applies: Don’t say it if you don’t want to read it for the rest of your life…

  • Like you, Dave, I won’t pile on at this point (though if the guy was a tech reporter you have to wonder what he was thinking).

    I think part of the misunderstanding stems from the fact that the tweets took place in a grander context. We can all read the twitstream but none of us knows what was said on the phone or anywhere else beforehand.

    The problem for all of us, though, is the very same technologies we know and love actively pull things out of context on a regular basis.

    Take RSS for example. I have a day job; my blog is maintained on my own time, outside of the office and with no connection to my employer, its board or its membership. This is pretty clear if you visit my blog as my disclaimer is the first thing you see on the page. But it’s not included in my RSS feed. If you subscribe in a reader, that context is taken away.

    So I’d expand on your point. Yes, be careful of everything you write but, furthermore, be aware that you also no longer control the format or context in which your writing is viewed.

  • Interesting post.

  • The situation is clearly regrettable and was clearly the result of pure and complete lack of judgment. Defaming someone in the public realm is dangerous, but it is infinitely worse when it’s your bread and butter (journalist –> comm pro).

    Dave, you’re quite right, this should act as a reaffirmation of the dangers of what gets put online. It is forever – and if it’s controversial it can easily gain a life of its own and become what ultimately “defines” you in the online space.

    No one wants to be remembered/known for a lapse in judgment.

  • I agree, it’s so important to control what gets written. I would also add photos to the mix as well, having seen my share of unflattering photos of people of Facebook. My belief is that if you are going to use Facebook and Twitter for business, keep it business related! (Even when it comes down to all those quirky little apps on Facebook).

  • I find it disappointing that ‘we’ tend to behave like children rather than responsible and caring adults. Yes, I generalize, and yet this is a critical time for this maturity to take place in the online world. As an example, I read in a local rag in Vancouver that a bus driver loses his job because of a blog. His blog is where he only shares his daily events as a driver. These are things that have value for community, and the real irony is that the transit company’s own “Transit Buzz” flyer subscribed to his blog.

    Rather than use these opportunities for further conversation, growth, and discovery, these situations explode out of control creating havoc to people’s lives both online and offline. This is not to say that we don’t want to be careful with what we say and post, it simply recognizes that communication has always been a challenge, and that human beings are never without fault.

    As an audience, as a writer, as a businessman, a lover, husband, and father, in any role that I find myself I will make mistakes, even though I challenge myself to be the best man I can. It is responsible and accountable for our world community that permits an ability to overcome these situations. These are things we all need to learn from, not run from.

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  • Totally agree. A post I wrote for a friend’s self-catering business in early 2007 had a hit yesterday. It stays with us for ever. Or just about.

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  • Owen Lystrup

    Fine post, Dave.

    I agree as well, but does anyone not these days? Is it really not yet common sense to restrict what you post publicly?

    I think the National Post’s reaction was timid. David should be fired for his comments. As a representative of the newspaper, his language alone and childish manner in which he conducted himself should be rules for at least a demotion.

    I hope he grows up sometime soon.

    April needs to be careful in the future as well. Though she handled herself with poise, she allowed herself to be drawn into that fight and ended up hurting her own reputation. A simple phone call could have made it all better.

  • HeatherCWhiting

    No one has posted on the culture that caused this to spread so far and wide.

    Tell me if you disagree, but I think I’ve decided that this wasn’t news, and that it is a stretch to call it a learning experience of what not to do on Twitter – as mentioned, most have the common sense not to have online fights in front of thousands. The interest in this and the viral distribution was purely for the gossip. People just love drama. Myself included I’m afraid, I reposted the conversation at one point.

    I also wonder sometimes about people who host long personal conversations on Twitter through @ replies. Usually they are harmless, and I guess no different really than a message board, but do you think that is a little odd?

  • Heather – you could argue that it’s obvious and this is clearly an extreme example, but I think the lesson is valid. Plenty of people seem to forget these lessons on a regular basis.

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