What Happens When ‘They’ Don’t Get Social Media? Why the Bullying Of Baskers Matters.

Wow, there really have been a whole load of social media shitstorms of late.

First, there was the case of Paul Chambers, AKA the #twitterjoketrial, where one guy tweets a jokey, hyperbolic, frustrated tweet ostensibly to his friends that follow him, and has now ended up (after appeal even) with a £1000 fine and a criminal record. And has lost his job.

Then there was the case of Sarah Baskerville – @Baskers on Twitter. She’s a Civil Servant, one that clearly cares a great deal about her job and has a whole load of wonderful ideas for making the processes involved in governing the country more transparent through social technology.

However, when Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail decided – without any warning or reasoning – to write an article about her, instead of praising her well-documented forward thinking approach to the role of emergent technology in the CS, and her commitment to improving CS practices, he instead drew attention to a couple of tweets that mention her having a hangover and suggested that she should be sacked for them.

Wow. What a shitbag he is.

Fortunately, Sarah’s bosses seem to realise that this kind of groundless muck-racking is the work of a putrid mind, a festering, morality-free bullying instinct, fostered by a newspaper that neither likes the Civil Service nor understands Social Media. Indeed, one that appears to be positively threatened by both.

That the Independent followed the story not with a critique, but with an expansion on Letts’ ill-founded bullying, is both a sorry indictment on them as a paper, and a wake-up call to just how few people in our national broadcast media really have the faintest clue about social media, how it works and what it means. Thankfully, the Guardian supplied the voice of sanity.

For me and the work I do with Amplified, the implications of this are potentially huge. We work with a lot of public institutions – including the Civil Service. I have explained how social technologies can increase transparency and public engagement, to people at all levels of the Civil Service, via Amplified’s involvement at the CSLive conference last year. We were invited by the COI – a department jam-packed with people who ‘get’ social media, who are passionate about good, effective governance – to demonstrate and explain social media to attendees at the conference, and to use the conference itself to demonstrate what we were talking about. We used Audioboo, blogs, Twitter, Flickr and other places to take the conversations that would otherwise only have happened over coffee and present the wisdom of the Civil Service to anyone who wanted to hear it. We asked questions, we took questions from outside to people inside. We recorded conversations with everyone from low ranking Civil Servants worried that social media usage was in contravention of their terms of contract, through to Gus O’Donnell, head of the Civil Service, and the head of Scotland Yard’s Serious Organised Crime unit.

Beyond that, we’ve worked with the NCVO, The Arts Council, BITC, IBM, Sungard, Reuters, the Citizens Advice Bureau and others, to open up their thinking, their processes and their planning to input from their users, their employees and conference attendees through social media. There have been loads of overwhelmingly positive stories of what this has enabled for the people we’ve worked with.

So when some tech-phobic journalist with a grudge decides to stalk someone’s Twitter account in order to ‘dish the dirt’ on them completely without context or a shred of honest reflection on the stirling committed work that person does in their role, I – as you might understand – get rather angry. Not least of all because I now need to warn the people we work with that their staff social media usage policy needs to take into account the possibility that some Letts-shaped turd may well be looking for a way to make a couple of hundred quid out of taking ill-informed, unresearched and morally bankrupt pot-shots at their staff for their use of social media. Further more, the #twitterjoketrial case shows that we can’t even rely on the law to understand the conversational nature of social media usage, regardless of any broadcast ‘potential’ that may be latent in the service. Paul Chambers case is an horrific miscarriage of justice and an insane waste of police and court time, presided over by someone with no apparent working knowledge of the internet at all.

These are interesting times we’re in – they are transitional and this new and largely misunderstood technology is highly disruptive and some institutions are proving highly resistant to the kind of adaptation required to take full advantage of their wonderful democratising potential.

But we know – you know, or you wouldn’t be reading this (unless you’re just Quentin Letts doing a vanity search, in which case, you should be ashamed of yourself, but clearly aren’t, or you’d have the decency to refuse to work for the Daily Mail in the first place.) this stuff is changing everything, it’s not going away, however many draconian and ignorant ‘digital economy acts’ are passed, however many dumbass Daily Mail journalists hide behind their pamphlet of hate and fear to peddle lies about hard-working Civil Servants.

See you on Twitter…

8 replies on “What Happens When ‘They’ Don’t Get Social Media? Why the Bullying Of Baskers Matters.”

  1. What shocked me the most was that, having heard nothing about the case (I know, sometimes I think I live in a bubble!), it took me only fifteen minutes research on the web to discover that @baskers, who I’d never heard of before, would be an asset to *any* organisation. It’s a pity the “journalist” didn’t spend fifteen minutes researching. If he had, he might have retained some credibility. But I’m asking too much.

  2. I think there is a problem with Twitter, Facebook etc. where the personal world (what I did last night, how I feel, what I’d like to do to an airport or my boss) can get blurred with professional life. On the one hand this allows colleagues to get an insight to the “whole you” or adds context to things you might be arguing for professionally. However I think there was always discomfort where personal life and work overlapped, even before Twitter. The things that were said over a pint in the pub might get back to your boss… or HR. I think this blurring may be one reason why organisations are a little uncertain over how to deal with policy around social media sites. DISCLAIMER: my views are not necessarily the same as those of my employer. If you’re confident that you can defend your position and all postings on your Twitter account then have one account and post away, but in other cases you might want to have a professional AND a personal account if that’s more appropriate for your situation. I keep business contacts and “friends” on LinkedIn. Facebook is for the people I really do count as friends.

  3. MKS – you’re right, and I think the disclaimer becomes really important – Sarah’s twitter feed contained both a disclaimer, and no mention in her bio of her department etc… It wasn’t even particularly indiscrete…

    But yes, there needs to be a balance – it’s found, I guess, in understanding the difference between ‘broadcast’ and ‘searchable conversation’ – clearly no-one (at least non-celebs) is ‘broadcasting’ their twitter feed, in the big media sense – @baskers was talking WITH her friends and twitter followers… but the searchable nature of it means that we need to be aware of the possibility of things being taken out of context, especially when someone with nefarious intentions, ala Letts, is going looking for dirt to dig.

    As social media grows up, I’m sure our understanding of the privacy issues and work guidelines around it will nuance too 🙂

  4. I’ve heard of people looking at Facebook and Twitter entries prior to candidate selection for interviews. So what you choose to share online and how you say it can have broader implications. Again, being authentic is important, but being measured in what you share is also worth considering. To be honest, I would be less bothered about a Twitter feed that showed occasional glasses of wine than one full of X-Factor rants “OMG, Why is <>> still in the competition?”

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