Think before you Facebook

by Stephen Tall on January 23, 2009

The St Helens Reporter brings us news of an embarrassment for a Lib Dem councillor, following online comments he made via Facebook, remarking that it was a “great shame” that two recently deceased Labour councillors did not represent Lib Dem target wards:

During the January 11 posting, [Councillor David Crowther] wrote: “It might be three before long – at least one other is rumoured to be seriously ill – great shame their (sic) not our target seats, but at least it will give us the chance to see how strong they are and it will seriously distract them for a few months.” …

[he has] issued a statement offering a partial apology. He said: “It is unfortunate that a private communication has been made public, but I agree the remarks are insensitive and on reflection that is not the kind of thing that should have been put on Facebook. I apologise for any distress that may have been caused.”

It’s unclear from the article if Cllr Crowther’s remarks were posted in a semi-public forum on Facebook (ie, visible to all friends), or if this was genuinely private one-to-one correspondence that has somehow been leaked. It makes a difference.

To the family and friends of the deceased councillors the remarks will appear highly tasteless. But intent is everything, and they were never intended to see them. The reality is that conversations such as these happen among activists of all parties; but most would be mortified if they were over-heard.

Indeed, all professions have their fair share of ‘black humour’ which to an outsider would seem grotesque, but where there’s no malicious intent. The offence occurs only when they become public. And when it does there is no alternative but a whole-hearted apology.

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I’m more worried that a Lib Dem Councillor wrote ‘their’ instead of ‘they’re’…

by Nthorn on January 23, 2009 at 6:25 pm. Reply #

The real debate isn’t whether these remarks where inappropriate – it seems fairly obvious that, in a private context, they’re undeniably a common occurrence, while unacceptable in a public one. Rather, it’s about to what extent Facebook and other such social networking sites should allow for privacy and what the lack of it means.

For instance, a politician in 20 years time is going to have to contend with the fact that pictures of them (and their antics) in their youth may well still be on some people’s computers, ready to surface. Surely this would make people more hesistant to enter public life?

On the other hand, might that very fact mean we cease to care as much about what politicians and other public figures got up to in their youth?

by carrion on January 23, 2009 at 7:09 pm. Reply #

Let’s keep this in its proper perspective – I’m with Nthorn.

I would hope that Carrion is right, and that if we’re lucky the social networking exposes of the future should mean a long overdue de-sensitization about politicians’ pasts.

by Alix on January 23, 2009 at 9:36 pm. Reply #

Familiarity will breed contempt. You can be Leader of the Conservative Party and not explicitly deny Catergory A drug use while at University. I think thats progress of a sorts but its not hapened out of any greater respect for privacy.In fact the media is more intrusive than ever.

Its just familarity has breed contempt. Illegal drug use while young is commom place enough amongst a certain subset that its no loger scandalous per se and causes a certain there but for the grace of God go i mentality amongst hacks and some voters.

Face Book will be the printing presses of the currency of scandal. They’ll be temporary hyperinflation as more material comes to light followed by worthlessness for the currency because there is so much of it.

by David Morton on January 24, 2009 at 6:54 am. Reply #

carrion: No, there isnt a debate about whether Facebook is private or not. FACEBOOK ISNT A SECURE MEDIUM and if you dont realise that yet you deserve all you get.

by MBoy on January 24, 2009 at 11:13 am. Reply #

Calm down, MBoy; my point was not that a debate should be had over whether or not Facebook is private, but rather to what degree it *ought* to be. There was a factual/normative distinction there, if you’d cared to notice.

by carrion on January 24, 2009 at 1:18 pm. Reply #

My worry would be why would a Lib Dem Councillor be breaking confidentiality and discussing part of the party’s targeting strategy in any domain, but especially a public one.

by Anonymous on January 27, 2009 at 3:53 pm. Reply #

“My worry would be why would a Lib Dem Councillor be breaking confidentiality and discussing part of the party’s targeting strategy in any domain..”

Usually you have to discuss targetting strategies in some domain!

In 1999 I had a message leaked from a private Cix conference planning one of the candidates’ leadership campaign. Membership was restricted to about 5 people who I trusted absolutely.

by Hywel on January 27, 2009 at 5:54 pm. Reply #

Should have made it clearer. He was discussing it with an ex-member of the constituency party.

by Anonymous on January 30, 2009 at 6:30 pm. Reply #

Odd thing about Facebook is that you can’t leave…a civil liberties issue if ever there was one.

by Terry Gilbert on January 30, 2009 at 9:39 pm. Reply #

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