Be Careful What You Tweet For


Last weekend, I read one of those horror stories that makes your chest tighten with the familiarity of it all; that feeling of “that could’ve so easily been me”. Titled ‘What happens when the internet hates you?’ and written by Jon Ronson for The Guardian Weekend, it was a riveting read about vulnerable individuals who had hitherto used the internet for nerdy, work-orientated purposes and now found themselves named, shamed and fired by the very medium they depended on for employment.

Two men make one ill-advised yet essentially hapless comment, one woman overhears and they all get fired (the step-by-step breakdown of this is that she tweeted her disgust, so they get fired, whereupon one of them writes a blog post and she – and her employer – get severe hate spam which will only cease, they are told, when she too is fired.) A sad and sorry tale, more than anything else, which highlights the incredible sensitivity of social media and the ability of internet ‘truths’ to spread like a particularly rampant bush-fire. We all know that what is ‘real’ and acceptable on the internet is undefined and far removed from real-life. Many people would not go up to a person they had never met and chant abuse in their face; but they were all too happy to bully this woman’s employer into firing her. Another woman, in the same article, put a stupid, un-PC picture on Facebook. This lead to unemployment, depression and her reputation sullied on Google.

What this story re-inforced for me, obviously, is how flammable a tweet can be. Or, in the case, of Instagram – where a picture can verily tell a thousand words – what words are they telling? I’m a relatively cautious person, a people-pleaser and when it comes to the internet, fearful of confrontation. Whilst journalistic integrity is paramount, the internet is such a terrifying beast that it guides what I want to say. I scan everything I write – ‘is there anything that can be forced into a bite-size re-tweetable tweet, from what I have written, that could come back to haunt me?’ – I think, triple proof-reading my blog post or article.

I am haunted, albeit mildly, by an article I wrote around three years ago for a monthly magazine about why there were more female fashion bloggers than male. There are, still, disproportionately more. But what was essentially a presentation of the facts was sexed up by the publication, as it was (this is something any fellow journalists may recognise) “a little too sitting-on-fencey”. I remember not being happy with the edit – those weren’t by words, after all, but that was still my by-line hanging uneasily above the copy – but not preventing those words being published under my name. When the magazine came out, the tweets came in. I was stupid, sexist, cruel. Just to clarify, I had tweets from men and women. This was years ago, pre-Instagram, when a hell of a lot less people were on Twitter, but I felt panicked, hounded, wounded. I was at my brother’s house ostensibly babysitting my nieces, but I just kept refreshing my feed and punishing myself with every fresh influx of anger.

On a personal level, one of the things I find hardest about being journalist – and it was definitely a part of my decision to focus more on fashion journalism than op-ed pieces – is the intense level of critique and scrutiny that you open yourself up to. Unlike any other job, everything you do in your 9-5 is scrutinised. I haven’t got the foggiest how my best friend performs on a day-to-day level, but almost everything I produce in the working week is out there for her to judge. Not that she would, but you get my point. But whereas I might have once just been critiqued for a piece of work, the internet can now hire or fire me – quite literally. I am more aware than ever of the role it plays in my career.

Everything I tweet, or Instagram, could be my downfall. That may sound dramatic, but it shouldn’t. Not in this day and age. I would never let a piece go out under my byline, anymore, that was flammable for the sake of being flammable. Or at least, not my own words or thoughts. As it clearly states on my Twitter biography, my views are my own and only my own. But sometimes we need protecting even from our own views. Don’t live in a glass house of fear, obviously; but interact with the internet like you would a normal human being. My boss is on Instagram and Twitter. I’m sure yours is too. A smutty tweet, or an inappropriate Instagram, isn’t worth losing your job, your Google reputation – or your mind.

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