(Aka: ‘This just in! Amelia writes a grumpy blog post!’)
A rather interesting turn of events has unfolded this morning. It’s all been a bit Ian McEwan, revolving around just one small ‘set piece’, and the different reactions to that happening.
The set piece: I received a message this morning informing me I’d had a tweet published in the local paper. Was I excited to see my name in print? Eagerly rushing out to buy copies for all the fam? Not so. Possibly because I was a bit groggy from just waking up, and the vodka tonics I’d consumed at Sankey’s last night, but I was a little….shall we say, dumbfounded?
I racked my brain. “But…I haven’t tweeted the local paper about any issues this week, have I? Unless I was really blacked out on those V&Ts last night, and came home and vented about that weird cat that keeps following me around when I go running. No. No, I didn’t do that.” I literally couldn’t comprehend as to how something had got from my brain, onto the net, and into the paper.
Look, I know we’re not dealing with News of the World levels of scandal here – and perhaps I should attribute some of my ire to watching ‘Hacks’ the other week (by the way, that wasn’t very good, was it?) But I was a bit disgruntled, to say the least. I put the pieces together. So…they can just take a tweet, a random piece of ephemera coughed out by my overwrought brain at an ungodly time of the day, and publish it? Cripes.
I mentally rewound the week in tweets. I tweet a LOT. A lot a lot. My mind settled on some particularly un-printworthy remarks I might have made about the Fabulous Baker Brothers, or boys in Barbours. Oh, lord, no. Please not that. I don’t want to look like some lascivious old man.
See, the thing is, I just tweet whatever comes into my head. A stream of non-sequiturs, comments on any passing whimsy, conversations with strange and wonderful new people, and a LOT of perving over the aforementioned Baker Brothers. I wear my heart on my feed, as they say, and I’d like to think that my followers appreciate that. The knowledge that any one of my, quite frankly, bizarro tweets could end up on paper made me tense up.
Perhaps you think I’m being a bit of a prima donna? But I’m saying the opposite – I am not Diane Abbott, or Stephen Fry, or even lurching out of the bars and art galleries of Chelsea (I do that, but not while being filmed. I think.) I am a person of no importance. But in a way, Twitter makes you important. It gives you a platform, it builds your ego – I mean, why call them ‘followers’ instead of ‘friends’? Sheer ego boost. With Twitter, the barriers are breaking down. You can talk to a celebrity. You can slag off poor old Anthony Worrall-Thompson. You can make a comment that gets ratcheted around the world within seconds.
I thought I’d learnt my lesson after a bit of a ‘run in’ with comedian Richard Herring. I’ve loved Herring for years, gone out of my way to see him and to listen to his Edinburgh Festival coverage. I made one sarky comment, which someone tweeted back to him, and suddenly poor old Mr Herring was talking directly to me. I felt horrible. My offhand remark had gone straight to the source, and not even of some celebrity I despised, but to someone I actually liked! On that day, I promised myself I’d be a bit more Twitter-savvy. I apologised, and explained myself, but ultimately that feeling still stuck with me. Even though their Twitter account may have a blue ‘verified’ badge by it, they’re people too.
My tweets, as I touched on before, are pure drivel most of the time. Enjoyable waffle, I hope, but piffle all the same. I rarely comment on things that are actually important. I just wang on about Wayne’s World and my new felt-tips, and what lovely apple juice I just got from Waitrose. So what’s the issue?
I have two. Firstly, the use of a tweet which might have been a joke, or just generally not in context. My particular tweet was regarding the lateness of the post. A throwaway comment by a girl who was looking forward to getting her new yummy business cards. Put it down in print, and suddenly it looks like I’m making a comment on the Royal Mail in general. It worries me that things can be taken to prove a point that I wasn’t making in the first place. If I’d been asked to comment on the postal service, I’d have given a fully rounded remark. But it isn’t about the single tweet, it’s the principle.
Oh, and I know, this is hardly new. Journalists using things a certain way to make a story? Points being lost in editing? GROUND-BREAKING. Not. But my feeling was one of ‘I didn’t sign up for this’. Many of you have disagreed, saying that simply by tweeting in the first place, I am putting my comments into a public forum, and they can be used willy nilly (I just wanted to shoehorn that phrase in.) Another line of argument has been, ‘you keep a blog, you tweet voraciously, you Facebook like tomorrow is the end of the Mayan world’. Sure. I do all of those. But if you actually read the things I write, I tell you very little about my actual life, even if it seems like I’m sharing my deepest, darkest secrets with you.
My second issue is with the reproduction of something I have said without my permission. ‘Permission-schmission’, you said. Well, ish. I think you worded it a little more cleverly than that. But really, how much time would it have taken to extend the courtesy to a mere four or five twitterers whose tweets were going to be published, just to say ‘is it ok?’ It would take seconds. And yes, you’ve all come back and said ‘there is nothing legal in place to say they have to do that’. Fine. But what about asking in the spirit of fostering community? It’s a local paper, not The Sun. If I’d been informed, I might have even got quite excited about it.
I’d like to put it in another context. When you take a photo of somebody and publish it, either on your blog or in print, you HAVE to ask permission. Last year at London Fashion Week, even in the busiest environment ever with a million style mavens milling around, photographers would tap you on the arm and say ‘excuse me, could I photograph you for my street style piece?’ Whether it’s a legal requirement or not, it’s still courtesy. So if we extend that courtesy to people when taking their photo, what about when using their thoughts? Surely it’s even MORE important to ask?
It all hurts my poor little heart a bit, because I adore Twitter. It makes me deliriously happy. But this stuff? Not so much. I want to be free to say whatever comes into my head. I think I may have to hire a spin doctor.
I have no wish to cause a controversy or start a fight. For one thing, I hate conflict, and I’m a generally happy bunny who doesn’t want to upset anyone. I wanted to work out why I was left so wrong-footed by this development, and I suppose this is just me questioning a system that is changing, and the hulking megabeast of the social networks, and whether I’m happy to stay within their confines. This is not a war cry, more a last word.
Perhaps I’m making a big issue about nothing. Perhaps I simply wish I’d had something more pithy printed than a comment on the post, which didn’t exactly make me look like Dorothy Parker. But for those of you who just didn’t get why I was frustrated, I hope this might help you understand a little more. This isn’t a searing indictment of regional journalism. Hey – I’m a writer too. I get where you’re coming from. But surely, there must be a better way?
P.S. This article is meant (mostly) light-heartedly. I have no wish to cause a frenzy. I am merely making a comment on an issue, and trying to explain why I was a little bit bothered by it.
It’s an interesting area. I’ve had my tweets used (tragically enough) by the BBC Archers blog, which publishes a regular round-up of ‘listener comment’ gathered from both Twitter and their own discussion boards. Obviously I don’t mind this, and I don’t think it would be feasible for them to seek permission from every commenter. But like you I would probably feel a lot less comfortable about a newspaper taking a tweet out of context to use in an actual story. But if I’m honest there is no legal or rational difference. If anything, these things are a useful reminder that what we say on Twitter really is public (much as I like to think I’m wittering only to my followers). Newspaper ethics (an oxymoron sadly) aside, we need to either bear that mind every time we tweet, or lock down our accounts. Hope you don’t leave though!
Ah, see that’s a different kettle of fish re: the Archers (I must check that out, by the way!) And I agree it would be impossible for them to contact all of the tweeters. I know I shouldn’t even be bothered about it, because they haven’t run some big story on me, or even used a tweet as the centre of an item. It’s more what it means. And yes, I tend to be very naive and just think I’m talking nonsense on Twitter, but I suppose this has opened my eyes to the fact that my tweets are vulnerable, and that I should be a little more cautious about what I say in future!
As I said on Twitter, unfortunately the reality is that it is public domain (like this blog and this comment) and that if you have a public feed then any one can reproduce that as you have already put it out there. I quite often go to tweet something and decide not to after all.
That said, there clearly should be some further discussions and possible legislation of what the public domain now means as access to and uses of social media increase. I did hope the ‘twitter trials’ would spark some nice debates, but it all seems to have rather gone by the way side.
I also agree that the paper should have asked you, that would only have been polite and as they clear have a twitter account it’s not an unreasonable step.
Absolutely. I do agree, and I realise now that I should have been a little more mindful of how my tweets can be used! I’m the same, I’ve often gone to say something, but ultimately stopped myself. I try not to post things that are offensive or potentially hurtful to anyone.
And again, I don’t want to hold anybody accountable for this, it’s all my fault for not being more savvy, and I should be thankful it wasn’t a really embarrassing tweet!
Thanks for taking the time to comment, and to read my post!
Oh dear. Nihilo sanctum est? Not any more. Like I said, I should just count myself lucky they didn’t publish any of my REALLY appalling tweets!