Facebook, Twitter and Linked In are just some of the new instruments that have been placed in the PR toolbox and changed the game a bit. Obviously, they are ways for people to manage different aspects of their reputation. However, one issue I have always thought about is how the nature of this social media world fits in with the concept of privacy.
Open communication and complete transparency are ideals in the PR field, but in our personal worlds, it is not always appreciated. (I know, you are thinking, “Definitely. I don’t want my boss seeing what I do on the weekends through Facebook pictures.)
As pointed out in an EndGame Public Relations’ blogpost by Steve Mullen, this exact worry can be seen in the argument with Facebook about who owns the posted material on the site. The company even altered its privacy settings to try to pacify the argument, which only angered people more.
Electronic Frontier Foundation even went so far as to accusingly say that “Although sold as a ‘privacy’ revamp, Facebook’s new changes are obviously intended to get people to open up even more of their Facebook data to the public.”
Some people do not think this is a problem. Louis Halpern and Roy Murphy have gone so far in their book, “Personal Reputation Management: Making the Internet Work for You,” to say, “Privacy is in the past. It’s gone. It’s history.”
Halpern and Murphy say, “In the internet age, your personal ‘brand’ or identity is never off duty.” They think that people simply need to present a positive and consistent message in all online forums and always show themselves in a good light to highlight the best aspects of their “brand.” (Sounds a bit like stereotypical PR, huh?)
After reading about an Internet marketing firm called DoubleClick, though, I am not so sure the way we utilize social media in both PR and our personal lives will always be so “open.”
DoubleClick became the point of concern for privacy on the Internet back in 2000. The company was tracking Web users by name and address as they moved from Website to Website, which led to lawsuits that were settled in 2002. According to Information Week, DoubleClick now has to explain on their Websites how they track and profile usage data of Web surfers.
As we all know, law is not the quickest to respond to new trends or to change existing precedents. (For an idea, see when the last time copyright law was altered.) Also, our 2,000-year old Constitution hardly foreshadowed the concept of something as far-reaching as the Internet, let alone the invention of it. So, it should be interesting to see what our courts one day decide for the fate of Internet privacy.
To add to that, with campaigns like Safer Internet Day 2010, gathering citizens’ support for safer and more responsible use of online technology, how will “transparency” exist if strict Internet privacy laws are written? Could strict privacy laws not only apply to citizens but corporations and companies too? What would this mean for the world of PR?
Halpern and Murphy think that reputation management classes will be taught at schools and universities in the near future. According to Phillip Young’s “Mediations” blog, the University of Sunderland (in the U.K.) already does.
But take a look at the Privacy & Data-Mining on the Internet Website, and you might wonder how such a trend of the “near future” will last or be useful if Internet privacy becomes a strictly protected right.