One of my responsibilities at work is media monitoring – finding everything that is being said about my subject (usually a company or a person or an issue) in the relevant media.
Traditionally, lawyers only cared about what was being said in the mainstream print and broadcast media, but online sources are becoming increasingly important in law firms.
I am both excited and disturbed by this idea.
It is exciting because I think that what is said and done online matters. This motivates my blogging and my reading. I enjoy developing ways of tracking online media. It is particularly satisfying to see free online monitoring services performing better than the expensive and dinosaur-like traditional media monitoring services.
So why do I feel ambivalent about this?
There are some very insightful comments following what I think is a significant blog post by Kathryn Greenhill. Should professional associations such as ALIA be paying attention to back channel discussions by its members – or potential members?
What struck me was the idea expressed in a comment that for an organization to be doing this monitoring was something out of 1984, an Orwellian invasion of privacy.
My perspective is that we’ve already gone a long way down the Big Brother road. There are lots of people playing a little/big brother role, and sometimes I’m one of them. If there’s relevant information to be found in Twitter, then I’ll monitor Twitter. I don’t see this as crossing any particular line – no more so than deciding to monitor somebody’s blog or website or making a Google alert.
There is no magical division between online and real life. Online speech has consequences in real life. Ignoring online speech also has consequences.
It is disturbing to think that everything we write online is stored and indexed and can be searched and used for purposes we may have never contemplated. There are things we can do, such as having our Twitter account protected, but that will not prevent the searcher from finding replies to a protected account, or RTs from a protected account or unprotected mentions of that person.
I can see two different ways people can react to this situation. One way is to limit your exposure to online speech. Opting out is more difficult these days, but it is not quite impossible. Just don’t be on Facebook or Twitter, don’t have a job which involves using email, never comment on a blog post. And make sure none of your friends or enemies or family members or co-workers mention you online either.
The other way is to accept the benefits – and the drawbacks – which are involved in online participation, and act accordingly. I think that the benefits are far greater, but I admit to being biased.