Social Media is like a Lawyer on a Train

One of the most justifiable worries that I hear about social media is that due to the social part of the tools, messages meant for just a few people can easily spread widely and be seen by tens of thousands. While many acolytes will say that social media is just another tool, like the phone, it’s really not: a phone conversation is between two people.

Right?

Not always.

Brad Phillips from Mr. Media Training passed along an article from the New York Times that shows that while we may have legitimate concerns about social media conversations spinning out of control through the media, that’s not the only place we should be concerned.

I’m constantly amazed by what I observe in public – lawyers on packed Amtrak cars discussing sensitive cases loudly on their cell phones, businessmen working on documents marked “confidential” in plain sight on airplanes, and politicos hashing out controversial strategy over lunch within earshot of fellow diners.

Those people have no idea who I am. I could be their opposing counsel, or their direct business competitor, or a political reporter. And if I can use the information I learn against them, I will.

Media interviews don’t end when you hang up the phone or leave the studio. So it’s a good idea to treat any conversation in populated public space as an on-the-record interview.

The common thread through these two situations, social media and loud talkers, is lack of care when handling a tool, not an inherent fault in the tool. A screwdriver can be as dangerous as a chainsaw if used (really) incorrectly. An ill-advised and loudly-spoken public phone call can be just as damaging as an errant tweet. Lessons learned? Be smart. Use common sense, no matter the tool. If you’re worried about others seeing a tweet, don’t send it. If you’re worried about others listening to your phone call, don’t do it in public.

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