My Disclaimer

clip_image002Within a few weeks of getting my driver’s license, I swerved to avoid rear-ending a car when the driver turned at the last minute. I was impressed with my newly ordained skill, as I had threaded my car between that guy and the person coming up from behind on my left. It was a confidence boosting moment, until the red lights came on. The officer was nice, he explained that perhaps I simply should have been following at a safer distance, and indicated that he was going to give me a warning. He did the obligatory check of license and registration, and chuckled “are you John’s boy?” I was John’s boy, and I was doomed. I was only receiving a warning, but I was going to have to tell my father, because this guy would the next time they were together.

A few years ago, but 40 years after the above incident, I was attending an event at the technology company my daughter works for when a Microsoft employee asked me: “are you Faith’s dad?” Sigh… I am proud to be John’s boy, Faith’s dad, Edna’s grandson and the right side of every genealogical equation you can build from my family tree, well certain branches of that tree, but I am also me. I mention this because who I am, who I am speaking on behalf of and who I represent at any given moment is taking on an entirely new meaning these days, and frankly, I think it’s stupid. John and Edna would have chastised me for using that word, but Faith might approve.

A friend of mine asked the other day on Twitter, if she should use one account for her (self-employed) business, and her personal tweets. Some would suggest that that is a bad idea; I encouraged her to be one persona, because she is just one person. I share everything on Twitter, but I don’t think it matters. The people who actually know me well, have seen the “business” me and most have shared a beer or a bike ride or a meal with the “personal” me. Nobody who has interacted with me after hours has stopped doing business with me. I trust my upbringing and experience to keep me between the lines.

This topic was discussed during a session on “Performing a Social Media Assessment “at Info360. The subject of interest to me was managing, governing or controlling a corporate social media presence. One thought that was offered was that “companies use Twitter; people tweet” meaning that we have to accept that when people are involved, their personality might be reflected in the company message. Note, that quote may be an adulterated form of a book title, but I couldn’t find the reference. I added that little disclaimer, in an effort not to take credit for something I didn’t create – that’s how communication works; we take credit for our thoughts and speak for ourselves. If I want my words to be treated as if they represent an official position the company I work for, I’ll say something to make that clear. If my personal belief is contrary to our corporate position, I’ll set it aside if I’m tweeting under their account.

This would be a great place to end this blog post, but sadly, it appears that the issue can’t be put to rest that easily. Disclaimers, I’m told are only the fodder for a future judge who fancies him/herself a lawmaker. Adding to the problem is the fact that the pace and form-factor of social media doesn’t always allow for disclaimers, undue vetting and governance by committee. Social media is spontaneous, fluid, and impulsive; all the adjectives that keep lawyers awake at night. There’s no room in a 140-character string for a disclaimer, and I will be summarily unfriended if I start adding a comment after everything I “Like” on Facebook, saying that “I am the person who likes this, not my company, not John, not Edna and not Faith.”

I was asked once if my blog profile included some very specific language. I didn’t remember what the word limit was, but I remarked that “Blogger doesn’t give you room to write a novel under the heading of About Me”. Someone pointed out that I could link to a full-page profile, but who is going to read that? – I have a hard enough time getting people to read my blog.

We don’t need more well-crafted disclaimers, we need to grow up!

The number of ways we can communicate is increasing, but communication remains the same. It doesn’t matter whether I tweet, blog, slap a bumper sticker on my car or hang a Go Steelers flag from my front door, it’s all me sending a message.

So here it is, my official disclaimer: – “unless I tell you that I am speaking for someone else, I am speaking on behalf of myself”, you know: John’s boy, Edna’s grandson and Faith’s dad.

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