Twitter and Privacy: The Stetten-Presley Incident

Jun 11
2012

On June 6th unknown model Melissa Stetten and reasonably well-known actor Brian Presley were seated together on a flight between Los Angeles and New York. According to the model Presley insisted on relating insights into his personal life as well as testing out some well worn pick-up line standards (paraphrasing; it must be fate that brought them together). Stetten’s response was to do a real-time reporting of the situation via Twitter. What made her tweets all the more potent was the fact that she kept followers updated on the unfolding event as well as receiving background info on the actor in return. Naturally there are few things more likely to go viral than a celebrity making a fool of him/herself or someone cleverly making a fool of a celebrity. So, Stetten’s celebrity news reporting on Twitter became a hot issue. One could argue that there are ethical issues involved in disclosing a personal encounter like this, and Presley being married and a recovered alcoholic did not appreciate the allegation that he was flirting with a young model while drinking beer. He disputes Stetten’s version of their dialogue.

Putting the ethical issues aside (as we so often do when dealing with social media!), the incident reminds us of some of the specifics regarding the nature of and the dangers of social media. Social Media expression hovers between oral and written communication, and it is this unique mode of expression that causes us problems. This combination of immediacy and permanence that a statement in social media has is something we need to be aware of at all times. Posting a tweet is just as immediate as an oral statement, but it can be immediately tagged and quoted and permanently attributed to the author. Deleting a post is a bit like trying to get a racing dog chasing a mechanical rabbit (do they actually do that?) back behind the gates. If it is out there flying, it’s gone.

What we really need is a filter – customized according to each individual. Imagine a time-lag as used on live coverage in American media to avoid the occasional four-letter word slipping through. Give yourself a few extra seconds to run through your own personal checklist (filter). For some, this might be a simple question like do I want my mom to read this? Or (if you are a celebrity), is this information I want my 80.000 followers to know?

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