nothing is private in the world of social networks

Nothing is private in world of social networks

It’s unlikely Sian Massey, the unassuming female assistant referee caught up in the football sexism scandal, woke up yesterday expecting to see her face on the front of The Sun.

But it’s there, nonetheless – and it’s not an official photograph. The Sun has obtained a photograph apparently showing Miss Massey letting her hair down at a party – a stark contrast to the businesslike, ponytailed figure officiating over top football matches.

Traditionally photographs like this will have come from good solid journalism – knocking on doors, pleading with neighbours, approaching family members until a photograph is located. Now, they’re available at the push of a button.

The Daily Mail for example, happily admits at the top of a story on the subject featuring no less than five personal photographs, “Sian Massey, 25, posted photos on her MySpace page of her dancing at a party and enjoying a holiday”. No doubt – but did she want them to end up in the national press? Probably not.

This month has also seen a host of photographs of the Dutch national Vincent Tabak, accused of the murder of his Bristol neighbour Joanna Yeates, appear in the press. The Mail again: “Photos on Facebook show the couple had a fun and loving relationship. In one they pose in fancy dress at a summer festival and in another they are seen at a 10km run.”

The traditional tools of journalism – research, contact building, hitting the phones, have all extended to encompass the web.

With so many people inputting huge amounts of personal information into sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, it’s not hard to see how a determined reporter could piece together a jigsaw of the information available and come up with, for instance, a location, age, contact number, email address and workplace for pretty much anyone.

Freshfield advises a number of clients on social media strategy, and on the best and most effective way for a business to have a presence on the web. Sometimes our work takes in what shouldn’t be on the web.

The boundaries between what is personal information and what is publicly available are rapidly eroding. I’m not suggesting a member of the local business community is likely to end up on the front page of The Sun, but the last thing anybody wants to see is a private photograph of themselves doing the rounds among colleagues, clients or customers.

A good rule of thumb is to assume that anything posted online will at some point be publicly viewable. Sites like Facebook are constantly reviewing privacy settings, usually giving little notice of any changes.

Many social networks make their content available for search engines, and even with many ‘private’ websites which require a login, much of the data is searchable – LinkedIn for instance, has public profiles too.

All it takes is for a potential client to Google the name of a company or staff member, and that badly worded Tweet or ill-judged photograph could be rearing its ugly head and costing a company business.


Written by Ben Hewes, at Freshfield

For more information, please contact the Freshfield team at hello@freshfield.com or call us on 01772 888400.

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