Although I use Twitter every day for a steady stream of information, articles, advice, and positive communication, I see many students using Twitter as a form of instant messaging system, constantly sharing impulses, ideas, and complaints, usually without filtering very much.
I have a hunch that most students don’t realize how public their tweets really are. Tweets are very easy to see. Tweets are even visible to those who don’t have a Twitter account!
Try this: Go to your favorite search engine. Type in your Twitter name, beginning with the @ sign. You will see some of your tweets pop up. Depending on which algorithm the search engine is using, you may be seeing your most popular tweets, or your most recent tweets, but they are your tweets. Click on one of them, and it’s an easy hop to find all of your tweets.
But what if a searcher doesn’t know your Twitter name? Your tweets are still public. Again, go to a search engine and type in any hashtag you have ever used along with the word twitter. Do the results look familiar? Maybe, maybe not, but anyone who chases down that hashtag will eventually see your contributions.
Yes, you can lock your Twitter account and make your tweets private. That makes them less public, but it still doesn’t guarantee privacy. Your privacy is only as private as other users allow it to be. If you tweet something, and someone takes a screen shot of it and tweets it out with your Twitter name in the message, your private tweet just became public.
Recently I was looking at the additions to a school-based hashtag that I created. Because I didn’t know one of the contributors, I clicked on his Twitter id. That showed me his list of most recent tweets. One of them caught my eye. It was a screen shot of a Facebook private message sent by another student, someone I know. The private message was pretty ugly, definitely not the kind of thing he wanted to be seen in public, but it became very public when another student captured and tweeted it. Not cool, I know, but it happened. When I showed the student a tweet containing his ugly private Facebook message that was now public on Twitter, he turned instantly ashen and said, “It’s just a joke.” My response: “If it’s a joke, how come neither of us is laughing?”
When I talk to classes about this, I sometimes hear, “Don’t teachers and administrators have anything better to do than sit around looking at our Twitters?” The answer is obviously Yes. We have a lot of better things to do. But sometimes our Twitter paths cross because we’re in the same school environment. A quick Twitter search of our school name reveals all kinds of activity, some of it from teachers, some from students, and some from parents. (It also reveals a lot of tweets from Germany, where our school name translates as strange or alien. Yep, that’s us!) Anyone who searches Twitter for information about our school will see all of that. Twitter users may be looking for positive information about something completely different and wind up seeing the worst thing you ever tweeted.
So, to sum things up, all of your tweets (and other online postings) are public or potentially public. They can be seen by anyone. They are relative easy to find. Even if someone isn’t specifically looking for your tweets, they might stumble across them, especially if you share some institutional or community relationship with another Twitter user.
Keep tweeting, but please, please, please be mindful of what you post. It might just matter. Better yet, be nice to each other.