Social Media and Privacy


I am often asked about how people can protect their privacy in the age of social media. I was asked this at the NHC Digital Inclusion Conference in Manchester last Thursday, and I have been further prompted by something I saw on Twitter today from Paul Taylor.

My take on this is a bit different from the standard answers, I believe; and it is this:

  • Our modern concept of “privacy” is an anomaly in human history, which has probably only existed since the eighteenth century. Before this everyone lived in circumstances where there was no opportunity for privacy and they would have struggled to understand why it might be necessary. Social media, CCTV, and covert surveillance are all returning us to an earlier state in this respect;
  • Social media is changing society’s views about what privacy is. Eventually, we will stop being surprised and shocked at things other people do;
  • Society will get better at educating people how to protect the privacy of those things which are necessary to keep private, and many of us will learn from painful experience. That set of necessary things will be a much narrower field than what we currently think of as “privacy”.

I’d be very interested in your views on these issues

HUGO Launch – all events should be like this


I believe in practicing what you preach. And yesterday was a prime example of that. I did one of my presentations about Digital Storytelling and its role in digital inclusion at the launch of the HUGO project in Leeds. As I usually do, I focused on the fun and joy that is to be had out of using the internet, and how the best method for getting those on board who don’t use it is to focus on the enjoyment, entertainment and education they are missing out on. And I am really proud of the people I am working with at Leeds Federated Housing Association, particularly Sue Jennings and Keilly Harrower, for making the launch event the embodiment of those principles.

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It was engaging and participatory: As well as “talking-head” speakers, of which I was one, each talk was interspersed with a section in which the audience got to do some work. HUGO has been designed around the HUGO family, a fictional family which is moving to Leeds and starting its digital inclusion journey. At the beginning of the day, delegates were asked to choose a badge with the cartoon representation of their favourite character on it, and they then re-arranged themselves into teams representing each character. This process culminated in the last break out session when each team wrote a blog post on behalf of their character, intended to be published, there and then. As Sue Jennings said, we were trusting the audience to have bought into the ethos of the character, and to take it in interesting, but not too incongruous directions, there and then, live to the world. Those of us directly involved in the project will have to live with the consequences of what they publish from hereon in.


It all seemed to work. There was lots of positive backchat on Twitter, which was displayed to the room via a screen. And then, as people queued for their lunch, there was one last surprise which caught them all unaware. Take a look below.

No one was expecting that, and it rounded off a fun, exciting, informative event, which, I hope, people will remember for a long time.

All events should be like this. It’s possible.

Using technology to disrupt centralised decision-making

I am starting to write this hoping it will not turn into a rant. I’ve said this before, many times, and I suspect I will say it again, many more times.

Britain is one of the most centralised countries in the world. Decisions are made in London all the time about issues that affect us all. Many of these decisions are taken in small meetings which involve no one with a perspective from beyond the M25. I myself have been at meetings in the capital where I have been the only attendee not based in London but where it has been assumed that everyone present can speak with experience of the whole country.

It need not be like this any more. We have the tools to change this situation. The London-based decision makers who take the top-level decisions are already open to scrutiny. We can watch their discussions on the BBC Parliament Channel.

The internet allows us to take the Parliament Channel principle into all aspects of decision-making. It’s a straightforward task now to live-stream your meeting, involve remote attendees using tools like Skype and Google+ Hangouts, and engender online discussion using Twitter, Facebook or online fora. It’s not happening anywhere near enough. Why not?

One of the factors, that I’ve observed myself when in London, is those serendipitous meetings, where people just happen to bump into each other, exchange views and start working on a collaborative solution. This happens everywhere, but it happens a lot more in London, where there are more people, and where such collaborations can often get direct access to funders and decision-makers very quickly. How we spread those sorts of benefits is a trickier challenge, but, I am sure technology has a role to play.

So, let’s do it. Let’s use new technologies to break down centralism in decision-making.

Retro Hour

Some of us had a conversation on Twitter last night reminiscing about 2008 and how we used to have lots of purely social banter on the platform. The feeling was that a lot of this has been lost in the intervening 5 years. After a while, the hashtag #retrohour was appended to the discussion, so you can see some of the tweets here.

One of the conclusions about how things have changed was that people have “stuck their necks out and had them chopped off”. We talked about a number of cases where people have lost their jobs, or been threatened with such, for injudicious tweets. I won’t repeat any of them here as that might just give these incidents more exposure. This has led to people being more guarded on Twitter and to the platform being a more serious place to be. And, at one point, a spammer joined in the conversation, which kind of proved the point about another way in which Twitter has changed.

So, what have we lost? In the early days of Twitter it did seem there was a lot more excitement, and a lot more playfulness. Its growth has rubbed a lot of that out. As I said in my session at the Learnpod13 event last week, I remain convinced that playfulness is the best way for anybody to learn, whatever their age. So, that means we must have lost something. Personally I think that the discovery of Twitter by the mainstream media did a lot to eliminate much of the playfulness as it meant that any tweet could be picked up, quoted out of context, and be used to make the author’s life a misery in unexpected ways.

Do you agree that we have lost a lot of Twitter’s playfulness, and is this a bad thing? Is there anything we can do about it?


Social Media for Social Good

Often when people ask me what I do, I say “Social Media for Social Good”. I do things that are not social media, and I also help companies use social media to sell things, but a key part of my work, comes under that heading. And, as I often get asked to define what I mean, here goes.

Social media for social good is social media being used by public sector bodies, voluntary and community sector organisations, and social entrepreneurs to help make the world a better place.

Why should such organisations use social media?

Answer 1:

Because over time, social media will be the principal communication tools used by everybody. They will replace the telephone, email, marketing shots, press releases and newsletters. It’s happening now, just look around you.

Answer 2:

Because, especially in these austere times, they cannot afford not to. They need to use social media to:

  • steal other people’s good ideas and implement them with their own beneficiaries;
  • be open about their own practice, inviting suggestions for improvement, criticisms, and praise; and
  • crowdsource solutions to problems and opportunities for funding.

Social Media is not anti-social

Today’s phone-in on BBC Radio 4′s “You and Yours” programme was entitled “Is social media making us more anti-social”. You can listen to it here. It was all a bit predictable really, a succession of luddites rang in to complain about how society was being ruined by people’s addiction to screens and devices, interspersed by a few common sense voices. At the same time, twitter was alive with people decrying the points of view being put forward (see the #youandyours hashtag on twitter).

As I say, all a bit predictable. People who prefer to listen to the radio and use the telephone (perhaps the original social media tool, ironically) mainly being in the anti-social media camp; and twitter users being pro. Who would have guessed?

But I feel strongly that people who say that using social media makes us anti-social have been allowed to get away with that accusation for too long. They are wrong. They are the anti-social ones, choosing only to be sociable with a small group of people who happen to be in the same room as them. Those of us who use social media have a whole world of contacts to chose from when we want to communicate. Why cut yourself off from a wide network like that?

This true anti-social attitude is putting some people off from using social media and blocking some possible uses. There are lots of lonely people who would benefit from its networking opportunities. If only they didn’t listen to the luddites.

My First Week on Twitter – An Idea

I’ve been thinking about those shared twitter accounts, where a different person tweets on behalf of a place, an organisation, or an idea every week. Some of them are really good, some, I have to say, are banal in the extreme.

So, I’ve had an idea for a twist on the concept. I’ve set up an account called @First_week, which could be shared by people who are in their first week on Twitter. And I’m thinking that contributors could be recruited at Social Media Surgeries.

It could be a good way for newcomers to be initiated to the world of twitter. It would be more like joining a conversation that’s already going on, rather than having to go and and seek new acquaintances, and it could be that people pick up more followers in their early days, because they could direct people to their new personal account when they hand over.

What do you think?

The IslandGovCamp Odyssey

I’m thinking there should be a klaxon going off at this point and a flashing banner, reading DAFT IDEA.

But… here goes anywhere.

Announcing the IslandGovCamp Odyssey… or, at least running it up a flagpole to see who salutes.


Image shamelessly stolen from the IslandGovCamp Facebook page

I’ve never met Sweyn Hunter in person, but I’ve talked a lot to him online, mainly on Twitter, and he seems like a good guy to me. His day job is in IT at Orkney Council, but he also loves cricket and The Archers, so we have quite a lot in common really. It was over cricket that we first connected, as he was a great supporter of #twicket, the world’s first live online broadcast of a village cricket match that I ran (with a lot of help from others) on Easter Monday last year.

Any way, for some time now, Sweyn has been planning IslandGovCamp, an unconference for people working in the governance of islands (and those with an interest). I love this idea, and really want to attend, particularly, as Sweyn says, it makes perfect sense for me to be there live-streaming the event to people on other islands who can’t make it. Perhaps I can help some people find their way to making things easier when they are prevented from travelling by the presence of stretches of water in the way.

So, as I say, I really want to be at IslandGovCamp, which is taking place on 26th and 27th May, but Orkney is a very long way from me, probably about 600 miles, and there’s a stretch of water in-between too. And I’m operating on a limited budget. So, here’s a potential solution, but, before I dive in, I need to know how much support there for the proposed course of action.

Random Welsh Beach

Oh, and there are at least 4 other people who want to make the trip as well. I’m not going to name them here, because some, at least, of them have regular office jobs, and I’m not sure if they’ve all got permission to make the trip.

So – this is the idea:

Jumping in and laying cards on the table….. I reckon if we do this in the preferred way, it will probably cost around £1,000. My proposal is to crowd-fund this cost. The money would be for a week’s hire of a campervan, food and subsistence, site fees, ferry crossing, etc.

The proposal is for a Social Media Odyssey from the Midlands / North of England to Orkney. I’ve done something similar with “Can’t Get Online Week” last November (see, that was 1300 miles, or a similar distance to Orkney and back, and that was modeled, in part, on Christian Payne‘s epic trip from Land’s End to John O’Groats in November 201o.

So, can we get five (or so) people in a campervan, trek up the country to Orkney, documenting our progress as we go, and stopping off to do interesting social media things on the way? I’m thinking we might take three days to get there, stopping to meet people and doing things like:

  • a social media surgery
  • a half-day unconference; and
  • a lightning talks session

as we go.

So, what do you think? Is this a wild and wacky idea? Would you like to see it happen? If we did it would you chip in some money to help us raise £1000? Would it be a mad waste of resources? Could you offer support in kind in any way to help us reduce the costs? Are there companies out there who might sponsor us in exchange for a high profile during the journey?

And, if you did chip in, what would you get? I’m open to suggestions on this, but, here are some ideas:

  • It will be fun and you’ll get to share in the enjoyment;
  • We’ll do some useful events and live-stream them, so you might learn something;
  • You’ll get to watch IslandGovCamp on live-stream as this might be the only way I have of getting there;
  • …… please make any other suggestions in the comments below.

IslandGovCamp is only 7 weeks away, so, if this is going to happen we need to make a decision pretty soon. The first step will be to set up a crowd-funding site, but, I’m not even going to do that unless I know there is some support out there.

Social Media – How do we find out?

The latest Leeds Social Media Surgery was interesting to say the least. For some reason, I was the only “Surgeon” present, and we had 7 patients, considerably fewer than the average turnout, but a bit difficult for one person to deal with. The only way of handling the session was to turn it into a group discussion, and, apart from a brief demonstration of live video streaming via Bambuser on my iPad, no technology was touched during the whole of the Surgery.

A really interesting question was raised during the discussion. One of the participants asked “how do you find out about all these tools?”. It was a very wide ranging chat, and we did cover a lot of tools, from Facebook through to various live streaming apps. My answer was that you start by finding the social media tool that best suits your purpose, and that use of that tool is likely to lead you to others. From my perspective, I found out about most  of the tools I currently use via the recommendations of others on Twitter.

How did you find out about the social media tools that you use? And, from the perspective of a voluntary sector worker, new to the sector and new to social media, what are the best shortcuts to becoming proficient in a range of platforms?