Hard to know when to shut up

For singer John Mayer, he probably decided it was time to do so this week when he deleted his Twitter account, leaving behind 3.7 million followers.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

For singer John Mayer, he probably decided it was time to do so this week when he deleted his Twitter account, leaving behind 3.7 million followers.

Mayer did not provide details about why he finally cut the cord, saying only that there was no longer a need to update his fans now that his Battles Studies tour has ended, but his decision shouldn't come as a surprise. He had previously revealed at the ASCAP music expo in Los Angeles that he was contemplating quitting Twitter, following in the footsteps of industry peer Miley Cyrus and British actor Ricky Gervais.

Mayer said then: "I just think Twitter as a form of communication, I think it's over to be honest with you. I would rather see Twitter be a cork board of links to other more important things... I can't tell you how many times I meet people or I'm having dinner with people who write stuff and they get upset, they have haters now... My challenge going forward is to basically disregard the need, the obsessive need for external validation."

And he was a compulsive Tweeter, turning to the social network with facts like how his, erm, male organ had gone numb after sitting with his legs crossed for too long.

While such revelation is unlikely to offend anyone--except maybe Mayer's own manhood if it doesn't regain normal blood flow--ramblings from other tweeting celebrities such as American reality star Spencer Pratt and actor Jim Carrey have attracted much public ire.

And it isn't just Twitter. Earlier this month, Singapore Airlines issued warning letters to some of its flight crew who had shared on their Facebook accounts details about work-related information including duty rosters and allowances, unhappiness with peers and in-flight incidents with passengers.

Just last week, an Australian newspaper editor was suspended following comments he made on his Facebook page where he reportedly said the death of a policeman in Sydney, killed in a drug raid, would help boost circulation. According to local media Australian Associated Press and ABC, Matt Nicholls said he would "make the most" of the cop's demise and that "there's nothing better than a death to lift circulation".

Over a year ago, I discussed how posts on social networks were increasingly personal and that some were airing their thoughts before first considering if their comments would land them in trouble.

A year today, it's clear little has changed, though organizations are now starting to dedicate more attention to monitoring and ensuring their employees' participation on social networks will not harm the company's image.

But, is it sometimes tough to know when to shut up?

Nicholls' remark about milking a piece of tragic news is callous but it isn't something most of us don't already know. Media houses, tabloids and magazines worldwide continued to carry news about Michael Jackson in the weeks and even months following his death because they knew it would help push sales.

While obviously tactless and in desperate need for a lesson on discretion, Nicholls probably assumed he was simply communicating to friends on his Facebook page an observation other journalists often joke about at watercoolers whenever a scandal or controversy breaks.

People who turn to social networks and other public platforms do so because they want to share their personal views and opinions, however mundane and trivial--or reckless--some of these ramblings may seem.

Twitter touts itself as "a real-time information network powered by people all around the world that lets you share and discover what's happening now". And it could be argued that the likes of Nicholls, Pratt and Carrey were merely answering the call to share "what's happening now" in their life and allow others to "discover" their innermost thoughts.

Perhaps in the desire to answer the call to "share" their personal opinions, some of us may forget that similar to the real world, we will be accordingly judged and persecuted by those who disagree with our views. And in the case of Nicholls and the SIA flight crew, it can also affect careers.

So is it easier to completely shut up and avoid any risk of attracting "haters"? Mayer probably thought so, but wouldn't the world be a terribly boring and uninspiring place if we all clammed up?

I believe a little moderation and thicker skin may be the solution here. If we practised some common sense and restraint when we expressed our opinions, then brace ourselves for critics that may disagree with our views, it might be easier to coexist in this increasingly socially-connected Net world.

Editorial standards