The social web brings into focus three factors: responsibility, freedom of speech, and a thick skin.
Because there’s nowhere to hide any more, we all have to take responsibility for what we say, in ways that we never had to in the past. We have to think about what we say, and we have to frame how we say it carefully. The bible says that we should treat others as we wish to be treated ourselves. I prefer the alternative of treating others as they would wish to be treated.
Freedom of speech remains with the social web. You do have the option of saying anything (although speaking off the cuff is less attractive). The internet and the social web do not stop you. But they do bring home the consequences almost instantly.
Recent events around the world (in response to the anti-Muslim video, in response to Australian broadcaster Alan Jones’ comments about Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s father) have demonstrated this forcefully.
So the choice about whether you exercise your freedom of choice, and how you do so, becomes explicit. The old rule of thumb when doing interviews of never say anything on the record you don’t want to see in print or broadcast, is a good one. See my first point above.
Thick skins are needed for a few reasons. If you do make a contentious or unacceptable or incendiary comment (or even one that people might just disagree with) be prepared to fight your corner, or to take the flak.
Of course, if you’ve followed the two points above, you have a well-thought through position that’s been carefully crafted in a way that gets your point across without unnecessarily offending those with opposing views).
If you are harmed by something someone else has said, there’s a moment when that harm will be real, before the social web kicks in and support (you hope) comes your way.
In other words, unfortunately, the actual harm has to follow the actual harmful comment before the restitution occurs. Hence the thick skin
Again, this didn’t happen as often in the good old days.
So those of us in the business of advising others on communications policy, strategy and tactics need to provide the right counsel. Those doing the commenting, those seeking to transform organizations through communications, have to take responsibility, understand that freedom of speech comes with new rules of engagement, and be prepared for the consequences.