Huffpost UK Culture uk
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Jane Sparrow Headshot

Twitter Message: LOL, Your Reputation Is at Risk

Posted: Updated:

One flag sideways, the other down at an angle, then one flag up at an angle and the other stays down. In other words, 'Hi'. I was going to do 'hello' in semaphore, but it would have filled the whole paragraph. The art of flag communication has long since become a curiosity, rather than a mainstream and I can imagine the flag waver's tears of joy when first handed a wireless set, lowering his aching arms with relief.

My point? Twitter. Communication's completed a huge curve of development and returned to a medium that drives brevity and encourages short cuts, leaving little room for chatty content. That said, it's become an art from that's produced some classic tweets that come close to Hemingway's famous, poignant six-word story: "Baby shoes for sale, never worn."

I'm as hooked as the next person - watching my follower number avidly, and trying to find pithy things to post that will stop my feeds sinking into the abyss. I moan about the rubbish that's on there, but I've been known to tweet about the weather outside or my impending coffee break. Therefore I'll concede it's OK, and mostly harmless - aside from the odd Troll that airs their mental problems for all to see.

Who knows if it will last, certainly the investment group BlackRock is hoping so, having sunk 80 million dollars into it this month (valuing the company at six billion dollars... yes six... billion). Many companies are finding it an effective way to talk to highly targeted groups and quickly get a sense of current mood about pretty much any topic you care to mention.

But wait! I have a direct message from a highly respected Twitter business contact: "LOL, they caught you on film, take a look!" Thankfully my esteemed friend spotted it, otherwise I would never have known. That said, would he really say LOL, or be watching the sort of clips he's hinting at? And why am I now being prompted for log-in details on Facebook?

I've had at least a dozen of these direct messages over the last month from my Twitter followers, from a range of people that are mortified to see their account being used in this way. I've given up forwarding them, and stopped worrying that my Twitter name is doing the same thing. I now don't read any direct messages from Twitter contacts, I don't send them, and I am reluctant to connect further on the site.

Adding insult to injury for the company, Twitter had the embarrassing 'human error' gaffe this week with the accidental inclusion of a pornographic video in its Editor's Picks on their new video service, Vine. Ouch - Vine has been criticised for the amount of adult material on it, and this has inflamed the conversation, and Tweets about it (but it could prove the service's success - see below).

My rather sad conclusion in all of this is that someone, somewhere will find a way to corrupt pretty much every form of communication that emerges - and I'm talking way before the birth of the 'net. TV, print and telephone are all regularly subverted in terms of intrusion, quality or maliciousness. Looking for an example? A recent radio programme 'prank' led to a suicide in the UK.

As soon as we open up a two-way channel to the world, it comes flooding in, whether we like it or not. And it has an undercurrent that we don't always want - I was once told that porn is the measure of success for any medium - if it can make it work, it'll succeed.

Let's not forget that this flood works both ways - our personal dubious content leaking into places we really didn't want it to go. The Recruitment Society and the CIPD this week re-iterated their warning about social media harming job prospects - most employers search candidates online. Cue frantic post deletions and the closure of various accounts.

All the Internet has done is provide new routes for the age-old problem - Twitter's not the culprit, it's the evidence. Every sharp tool has a blade that will cut the wielder just as quickly, and this recent spate of hoax messaging is doing that very successfully. This shrapnel of communication isn't going away and we have to concede that not everything the most believable people say is, well, believable.

But is it the tool creators' fault? When one in nine of us use the pin code 1234 for our banking, you do have to ask how easy can we make it for fraudsters? If we want a culprit, it's our own online behaviour - cavalier with what we say, casual about who we associate with and lazy with our security. If we abdicate control of these tools then, of course, we will see these issues arise. We don't see them as 'valuable' in the traditional sense, so our usual checks and balances don't seem to apply (Google tells me its four years since I changed my password).

My concluding three tips? Firstly, don't make your number of followers on Twitter/Facebook the goal; otherwise you'll end up with some very murky contacts. Secondly, apply the 'what would my boss say' rule to everything you post (so no drunk posting). And finally, buck up your ideas when it comes to security - a password is NOT for life.