Revisiting “front page of the newspaper” wisdom

I’ve been preparing for my presentation at the Advertising and Marketing Law Conference on 15 October and reading through some materials I’ll probably reference in my slides. One paragraph just stood out for me in Anil Dash’s article “What is Public?“:

The conventional wisdom is “Don’t publish anything on social media that you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the newspaper.” But this is an absurd and impossible standard. The same tools are being used for person-to-person conversations and for making grand pronouncements to the world, often by the same person at different times. Would we say “Don’t write anything in a sealed letter that you don’t want to see on the front page of the newspaper” simply because the technology exists to read that letter without opening it?

I think the reason this stood out for me is because conventional wisdom is that you shouldn’t publish anything online that you wouldn’t want published on the front page of a newspaper or on a billboard at a busy intersection. It makes sense until you consider that we are using the same platforms to share things privately and publicly.

How many people use Twitter for personal sharing as if they and their Twitter friends are the only people who can see otherwise public updates? They certainly don’t intend for their tweets to be shared with everyone who uses Twitter (until they do) and although Twitter is very public (unless you lock down your profile) many of its users still have this illogical expectation that their tweets are not for public consumption.

If anything, this sort of issue highlights how complex privacy is in this digital age. We face a number of tough questions about how we use social media and what seemingly obvious notions like privacy really mean to us.