Mar 18 2009

Tweet like your mother is going to read it

Published by at 5:48 am under Privacy,Social Networking

I’m sometimes amazed at how quickly people forget that Twitter and all social media platforms are public forums.  The ‘social’ in social media means that what you post is out there in the public for all of your friends, as well as people who aren’t your friends, to read.  It’s like standing in a crowded room, talking to a group of your friend, with other people on the fringes listening to the conversation.  You never know who’s in that fringe group and what they’ll do with what you say.

Yesterday a job seeker got a very graphic example of the dark side of social media on Twitter; they’d been offered a job by Cisco and made the mistake of tweeting the following:

Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work.

Someone associated with Cisco saw the tweet and responded.  I don’t know if the job offer was rescinded, but given the popularity of the meme, it’s quite likely they’ll at least have to explain themselves to the hiring manager and fight an uphill battle to keep the job.  Or maybe they’ll be too embarrassed to face the hiring squad at Cisco again.  In any case, it’s not a position anyone wants to be in with the current economy or any economy.

I’m no stranger to this effect and I’m sure we’ve all posted things online that we wish we could remove from the the semi-permanent record that is the Internet.  It’s easy to forget that the little group of highly interactive followers you have on Twitter is also backed by a much larger group of followers who never post, just take in what we’re tweeting.  It’s even easier to forget that there are a number of ways people can search on key words, like ‘Cisco’, even if they aren’t on Twitter and following you.  It’s a public forum and everything you say is being recorded and read by someone and that someone might be you’re boss, the guy who’s thinking about hiring you for your next job or your mother.  Would you say some of the things you do on Twitter or Facebook if you knew your mother would read it?

Making your conversations on social media sites private is no guarantee they’ll remain private.  You might make a mistake and make your conversation public, the site might make a mistake, a friend might repeat what you’ve posted or any number of other ways for the information to become public.  It’s social media, it’s meant to be broadcasted and it’s entirely too easy to lose control of who is receiving your message.  If you really want to have a private conversation with someone, pick up the phone and give them a call.  That way, at least you know the only people who might be listening in are in a small room of an AT&T building in San Francisco.  

If you’re using social media tools, you’re living a public life.  What you say can and will affect your future prospects.  It may be a virtual soapbox, but you’re still stepping on a stage and shouting to a crowd every time you tweet or post on Facebook.  Learn to live your life like someone’s listening to everything you say, because they probably are.

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8 responses so far

8 Responses to “Tweet like your mother is going to read it”

  1. CGon 18 Mar 2009 at 8:44 am


    excellent post you are right on the money and i think most people fail to take the permanence of web2.0 technologies into account sometimes.

  2. Joe Franscellaon 18 Mar 2009 at 11:43 am

    Sage PR advice indeed. I can’t believe how closely I am paying attention to what I am typing right now. I once had a DLP client whose software alerted you when you typed anything potentially confidential in Outlook email. Stories like this may lead to a Twitter add on that warns you if it appears as if you are about to tweet anything “risky.”

  3. Tony Mackeyon 18 Mar 2009 at 2:37 pm

    Great post, not only is the story funny, but it is a very simple example of how easily your own words can get you in trouble. It is safe to assume everything you type will be public record at some point. As Martin Lomasney

    said, never never write if you can speak; never speak if you can nod; never nod if you can wink…and I’m sure if were alive today, he’d say never blog when you can tweet and never tweet when you can just keep it to yourself.

  4. […] I for sure appreciated Martin McKeay’s “Tweet like your mother is going to read it” post and especially Tom McKeay’s Tony Mackey’s response. It got me thinking, […]

  5. Tony Mackeyon 03 Apr 2009 at 7:04 pm

    I’ve referenced your blog entry several times in casual conversation, but I had to take a moment to reply (again) because it is increasingly clear that big brother AKA Google is picking up twitter comments, so it is clear that mom may see your Tweet – even if she isn’t following you.

  6. Eddy Scotton 10 Apr 2009 at 3:52 am

    Right on the button, we have google now but who knows what data mining tools will come along next pulling all of these strands together.

  7. […] McKeay’s recent post Tweet like your mother is going to read it is right on. It is such a simple and common sense idea, […]

  8. […] on them. For me it started with well known security blogger, Martin Mckeay’s ‘Tweet Like Your Mother is Going to Read it‘ entry. That simply blog reply was noticed by a number of people and search engines alike (by […]

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