Nine out of ten people want specific guidelines for the media on the use of personal information published online.

According to the study carried out by the Press Complaints Commission, 89% of those questioned believe clear regulations were necessary and would help them more easily seek redress if material is wrong or intrusive.

Concerns about the amount of sensitive and personal details that can be accessed through most search engines has been building for some time, with the way in which the media use the information found on social networks a particular worry.

The PCC has ruled out making any changes to its current code in order to handle complaints against newspapers as a result of their use of information from social networking sites. Sir Christopher Mayer, chairman of the PCC, said the current code was able to handle complaints in this area.

Whatever the PCC’s decision, I can’t help thinking the big issue for the media and journalists lies in that figure of 89%.

I would expect it be so high, indeed I’m surprised it isn’t a little higher. The outcome of the PCC’s question is probably as predictable as Alex Wotherspoon being sulky and defensive on The Apprentice.

I’m also not surprised that the PCC is pointing the finger back to the social networking sites themselves, claiming they are the ones that need to tighten things up.

But it is clear that public awareness about the amount of personal information they post about themselves, or which is being put up by others, is slowly starting to increase. It therefore follows that they will start to get twitchy about who is looking at the information and what they potentially could do with it.

For a while now the internet has been a major new tool for journalists to utilise – whether that is trying to track down individuals, gather background information ahead of an interview, or any number of other reasons. Indeed, it has been very useful in getting the much-needed new line or angle on the big story that everyone else already has.

These days you never know what might end up published on the internet and you do not always have control over who sees it – from drunken party antics caught on camera and posted on another Facebook profile and ill-advised comments about an employer posted on a website or blog, to a supposedly light-hearted status update published on Twitter which could be read as something quite different and used against you.

The search engine has become all-powerful and almost all-seeing.

As more people become aware of this, their desire for privacy and their mistrust of those who might use the information will increase accordingly.

So is social networking still the media’s friend, or is it becoming a foe?

The number of “tools” available to us is growing almost by the day.

You might well Tweet, but have your started to Plurk yet?

You might Stumble upon stuff, but have you checked out Jiglu too?

On a slight tangent, what happens when Twitter et al are no longer flavour of the month and you want to transfer your allegiances lock, stock and status updates to the next big thing?

Is it like switching banks, can you get help in swapping everything – friends, networks, status updates and all the rest of the information you keep on it – or do you simply abandon it completely and start all over again on the new site?

Social networking is exploding and the fall out is catching a growing number in its wake. But that in itself raises the issue of information overload – or infobesity as some have started to refer to it.

We’ve reached a point where we now have so much to consider, we’re in real danger of tipping over.

As individuals we can pick and choose what we do. For example, I’m Twittering at the moment but I haven’t made a decision on Plurking yet – my wife has joined up after one of her blogging network recommended it, but I’ve decided to keep a watching brief for now.

But for the media the decisions are slightly more tricky. You might tell the world you’re about to become a Twitter-friendly newsroom, but you have to make sure everyone signs up and knows exactly how they should be using it. Then if Twitter is over-taken by Plurk, or something else, you have to decide whether to get everyone to switch, persevere with tweeting or get everyone to tweet and plurk (or whatever else) in tandem.

Journalists, generally speaking, are already struggling to come to terms with this new technology. So something will have to give eventually as we keep piling on yet more things for them to consider.

By the time you start finding your feet with one “revolution”, the next has not only happened it is already fading rapidly to be replaced by yet another NBT.

Of course, the media has only got itself to blame. It spent so long poo-pooing Web 2.0, by the time it finally realised it was missing a trick it was already too late.

You are on a hiding to nothing trying to play catch-up with such a rapidly evolving environment.

The brave new world has come and gone. It is being replaced by a whole new age, but the media is still exploring the old place.

Some maintain that the mainstream media, newspapers in particular, will weather the digital storm it has become caught up in. Others say newspapers, regional titles especially, need to look far beyond their traditional remit and become community media businesses to ensure future prosperity.

I’m still left feeling that social networking and Web 2.0 generally will remain a necessary evil for the media to struggle with, rather than a true friend.

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2 responses »

  1. Ursula says:

    You know, Paul, big sigh, we do dig our own graves.

    If we don’t want personal information to get out why give it in the first place? I am happy, by way of example, to name my siblings in my own blog – but we have to draw a line which suits individually, and cannot complain later if the privacy we do not afford ourselves is then broadcast.

    It’s so bad now that I have people complaining that they can’t “google” me. Well, hallelujah, of course they can’t. If someone wants to find out about to me then please talk to me; via email, the phone whatever – I’ll answer question, I’ll satisfy any curiosity but I do not do indiscriminate round robins, sorry, social networking.

    Paul, I will expand – later today – on your theme in the privacy of our email exchange. A lot to say – though I’ll try and keep it short.

    U

  2. [...] Marketing Blogger Network member Paul Groves referred to the term ‘infobesity’ in a recent post. I think that’s a brilliant neologism for our times. Everyone acknowledges that consumers are [...]

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