A recent discussion on the NUJ New Media mailing list prompted me to jot down some thoughts on the current private-public confusion thrown up by online communication channels. I think some education is required here on both sides.
Lesson 1: It’s public. Whatever you may think about codes of conducts, etc. etc. if you say something on a forum you should be aware that it may be quoted, that it may be indexed by search engines, databases, etc and potentially findable. You cannot rely on people’s good manners. So be careful what you say, or be prepared to stand by what you say.
Lesson 2: It’s private. Journalists got a lot of flak for wandering into blogs and forums after Virginia Tech because they saw it as being ‘in the public domain’ and therefore ethical (Tony Harcup had this view when I spoke to him at the time). But people using those platforms have a different view of what is ‘public domain’. So be courteous and sensitive.
An addendum: legal issues are still to be resolved around much of this. Employers and lecturers who look at people’s social networking profiles could be breaking the law; Facebook ads might be doing the same.