Published: 16 December 2013

Viewpoint: The danger of 140 characters


Communication Studies and Politics undergraduate and member of the School of the Arts Student Press team, Gee Canning, has been exploring the dangers of Twitter for a web savvy student population:

“Peaches Geldof tweeted the names of two mothers who were involved in the Ian Watkins case recently and could now face a criminal investigation.

“The tweets have since been removed and Geldof has publicly apologised stating that she assumed the names were already public knowledge. It’s not the first example of its kind, but nevertheless it has reignited the ongoing debate about the dangers of Twitter.

“With an estimated 500 million registered users, Twitter is viewed by many as fun social interaction and the benefits of effective use for individuals and businesses are well documented.

“But it can have a dark side. As a student you tend to come across frequent examples of content which may have been posted in the heat of a debate, but which in the cold light of day could be deemed quite controversial.

“Most would admit to, at some point, forgetting that an online profile is public and, despite privacy settings, accessible to a wider pool of people than simply those who follow you.

“Deleting a tweet or deactivating an account will remove the content at its source, but what you have written is still available to the public. Screenshots or re-tweets are common and once it’s been done, there is little you can do to control the spread of the content. The press who are still running the story of the Geldof mishap are able to use a screenshot of her tweets even though she has deleted them.

Employers are increasingly warning job hunters that it’s not just your CV and charming personality which they take into consideration when it comes to interviews, but also your online persona. A comical but crude tweet or a ‘funny at the time’ picture might not reflect what you would like it to in an interview. Mistakes are easy to make when using Twitter but before emerging yourself and your opinions in a Twitter debate think about how you would defend yourself when asked about it by an employer in an interview. Was that tweet really worth it?

“Given the rapid growth and changeable nature of social media, it’s not really surprising that mistakes are made, but as with all emerging technologies there is also an opportunity. Twitter allows people with similar interests to connect and debate and the power it holds to disseminate breaking news is recognised all over the world.

“Being aware of the pitfalls is essential, but if you are mindful, Twitter and its social media counterparts can reap great benefits for those who use it.”

By Gee Canning

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