To protect or not to protect?

I threw this out to the Twitterverse for discussion yesterday:

Considering unlocking my tweets. Feeling apprehensive about it though for the usual reasons. Thoughts? #ukedchat

When I signed up to Twitter back in July 2010, I joined with the purpose of connecting with other teachers and people in the field of education. Following the odd tweeting celebrity was definitely more of a by product of the whole experience for me. With that in mind, I decided to tweet by the rule that I would only tweet things that I would feel comfortable with any member of staff, parent or pupil reading. To this day, I think I have stuck by that philosophy successfully. Yet not long after signing up to Twitter, I decided to change my account settings from the default of public tweets to protected ones. Twitter defines these as:

  • Public Tweets (the default setting) are visible to anyone, whether or not they have a Twitter account
  • Protected Tweets may only be visible to previously approved Twitter followers

A sense of security
So why did I feel the need to make this change so early on? Even now, I can’t give you a definitive answer, but I think it felt ‘safer’ to have them protected. A little odd perhaps considering I had not experienced any Twitter-related issues that meant I needed or wanted to feel safer. However, I think having to approve my followers manually gave me a sense of security. In reality though, is this actually the case? The key word there is ‘sense’. One tweeter suggested:

a protected account doesn’t protect you from anything.#futileandpointless

What’s changed?
I have been merrily tweeting away in a protected fashion for well over a year and had no real problem with this so why change now? Well, the other day I tweeted this in response to Miles Berry‘s tweet about teaching being a job that has a moral purpose:

@mberry It does. It’s not my job description that holds me accountable really; it’s my responsibility to my chn

Miles tweeted back that if my account wasn’t set to private he would have retweeted it because it was a key message. That made me stop and think: what a shame that someone felt I had posted something worthy of re-sharing, but they could not easily do so. Doesn’t that contradict the whole purpose of why I am on Twitter anyway? Yes, they could copy and paste it manually and put RT in front of it, but then if I am comfortable with people doing that, why I am protecting my tweets in the first place?

The Twitterverse has spoken
The response I got to my initial question , as expected, was a mixed bag, but I would say the overwhelming majority of people felt that they preferred having public tweets. Interestingly, even people who had had negative experiences involving tweets being taken out of context, misconstrued and used against them still preferred to tweet openly.  A selection of the responses:

I have never locked mine – never had any issues, ok get spam mentions but just block the sender.

mine are not protected and it is always in the back of my mind to watch what I tweet, but we are allowed opinions

Let’s hope you don’t tweet about *any* aspect of your life. A parent might read, take offence, complain leading to who knows what

mine are unlocked, never had any comeback. I think as long as you don’t tweet anything offensive then you should be ok

I wanted to [unlock] a while ago but thought better of it as anything you say in 145 characters can be taken out of context!

Should policy dictate the access to *personal* social media accounts? I’m unlocked, and even followed by a parent!

public tweets are ok as long as you are careful. Doesn’t need a policy – protected under employment law

protecting stops me retweeting you

I protected my tweets after a pupil tried to follow me

I do keep an eye out 4 new followers and block any 1 don’t think are appropriate etc as yet not had pupil follow

I protect mine to stop trolls and those with friends in high places seeing what I think 🙂

you know I’ve had problems but I still prefer unlocked. I felt locked stopped me contacting ppl & inhibits sharing

I locked after an issue with someone searching for me for negative reasons but prefer unlocked. Also abide with @simfin ‘s advice on not being negative or controversial on here I try 2 avoid dischord

I’m unlocked, say what I feel and will continue to do so. I block when trolled.

Never understood need to block-I don’t believe you say anything remotely controversial but also opens up ability 2RT ur gr8 tweets

A decision
I have considered everybody contributions, which I am very grateful for because it really helped to clarify things, and have decided to unlock my tweets at this point in time.

There are three main reasons for this. First of all, I don’t think protecting your tweets actually gives you any real protection at all. When someone requests to follow me, I do check who they are, e.g. read their Twitter bio, and if it says they are something to do with education I accept their request. If there is no bio at all, I don’t and if they are a pupil, I block them (this happened once). Simple as that. However, this doesn’t mean I really know who they are at all so I am still not safe to tweet any old thing I like in their presence. Protected tweets would really only be protected if I personally knew every single person I allowed to follow me and could ensure they would never copy and paste anything I posted. This brings me on to my second reason: I think protecting your tweets can actually lull you into a false sense of security, which is potentially even more dangerous than having public tweets. Just because your tweets are protected does that mean you don’t have to give what you tweet a second thought? No, absolutely not, but it can be easy to slip into that mindset. Lastly, and most importantly, I think protecting tweets inhibits retweeting and sharing, which is the whole point of why I am a tweeting teacher in the first place.

So yes, my tweets will be public until I find a reason to reconsider my standpoint on this again. I will carry on thinking carefully about what I tweet, but perhaps even more carefully than I did before, which can only be a positive thing in my eyes. That doesn’t mean that the tweets to Lisa Faulkner telling her about the latest recipe I’ve just tried from her cook book or ones including pictures of my lovely baby nephew will stop (I am only human, folks and he is incredibly cute), but I will be more aware and surely everyone could benefit from an extra dose of awareness now and again? We are all responsible for managing our online presence after all and that goes way beyond just protecting your tweets as @simfin explains so clearly in the video below.

What are your views on public and protected tweets and managing your online presence in general?

(Image: 30 days of gratitude- Day 26 by aussiegall)

23 comments

  • Great post, Claire. For me it is the serendipitous conversations that one ‘over hears’ on twitter that are the most exciting for me and the reason why I am here and have my tweets open. These are the times that I discover what I didn’t know I needed to learn. That happens more easily when the system is open. There have been many times I would have loved to RT your tweets, so I’m delighted that you have unlocked 🙂

    • Claire Lotriet

      Thanks for your comment, Jo. I agree, Twitter is a place where I tend to stumble on so many useful things and people rather than seeking them out.

  • Great post, Claire. You have clearly thought this out. I too, started on Twitter following friends and the odd celebrity but wanted a different one that I could link to the school website, hence @mrwaldram. In the last 6 months, I have used that account a lot and decided to unlink that account from the website and have a single one for that @sheltonjunior. This seems a lot of work and my account sometimes goes crazy with beeping but I do feel that I am happy with my personal musing and educational musings separate.
    I totally agree with you on the ‘what you post’ front too. The last staff meeting I led on e-safety and acceptable use ran along the lines of: ‘never post anything on any account that you wouldn’t want the world to see’ Simples.
    I do have parents and children following my Mr W account and I do divert them to the school one. Again, you’re right in the sense of keeping it safe, keeping it professional and keeping it secure.
    Good post 🙂

    • Claire Lotriet

      Thanks Ben. It does ultimately come to down common sense doesn’t it? Protected or not, if you don’t want someone to see or know something then social media isn’t the place for it.

  • Protecting your twitter goes against the principle of open and sharing, two ingredients that make Twitter such a great platform to use. Miles is spot on with the issue of RT’ing a protected account, why bother going through copy and pasting just to RT! A protected account may be necessary if you’re teaching in a locked down school, where your anonymity is essential to keeping your job. But we haven’t reached that level of fear in England just yet 😉

    • Also, isn’t copying and pasting a protected tweet to re share it violating the terms under which the original person shared the thought?

      • Claire Lotriet

        Very interesting point! I would argue that yes it is. That person has protected that tweet and you are sharing it with the world beyond their approved audience without their permission.

    • Claire Lotriet

      Thanks Kevin, I agree and have come to the conclusion that there really isn’t a middle ground – you’re either on Twitter or not.

    • Great post Claire, completely agree with you Kevin! All about the sharing.

  • Have to say that I totally agree with Jo. It’s the randomness that is the great thing about twitter. I have gained some really interesting followers and followed them back who I would never have come across if I had protected my tweets. Yes, you do have to have some awareness of what you say but doesn’t that apply to any conversation? I don’t watch my words on twitter any more than I do in real life. I have never had any problems with strange followers but maybe I have just been lucky.

    • Claire Lotriet

      Another great point, thank you Janette. Social media does have similarities with any public conversation. As teaching professionals, we have to mindful in a number of situations not just online.

  • Lois Lindemann (@MoreThanMaths)

    Nice post.

    I’ve always had an unprotected Twitter account and have followed similar rules to you about what I post. It’s the openness of Twitter that has allowed me to find such an amazing network of people.

    I’ve had several students follow me, but I’ve never blocked them, I just don’t follow them. I don’t see the point of blocking, they can read what I’ve said on a public timeline easily enough.

    • Claire Lotriet

      Good point Lois. With a public account, anyone can view it whether they’re following you or not or even on Twitter themselves. Ultimately, you need to be comfortable with what you post don’t you?

  • “I think protecting tweets inhibits retweeting and sharing, which is the whole point of why I am a tweeting teacher in the first place.”

    You nailed it! Twitter is a great place to join and “overhear” conversations. Protecting your tweets is like sitting in the corner by yourself!

    • Claire Lotriet

      Thanks for that analogy John, I think that notion of overhearing is what Twitter thrives on!

      • That’s look great that people would love to share their educational matters and experience on internet, this would be good for readers who must face again this issues in their projects.

  • Just to throw something in there, don’t know if you have considered it. You have been tweeting for quite some time in the frame of mind of having a protected account. Therefore you will be thinking of your audience as those you have approved, and airing your views and your information accordingly. Once you unprotect your tweets all of that suddenly becomes public, the context you were writing in is no longer the context in which they exist.

    As you were not thinking in terms of public consumption when you wrote all of that content, will you be going back through it to check if it all still fits in it’s new context? Can you be sure that everything on that account is something you are happy with being publicly visible?

    • Claire Lotriet

      Thanks for bringing this up Oliver because it was indeed a factor to consider when deciding to unlock my tweets. I had to assess how successfully I had previously stuck to my rule of only posting things I would be comfortable with any parent, colleague or pupil seeing. To do this, I did actually go back through my timeline quite a way and re-read them with fresh eyes and felt comfortable with what I saw.

      To be absolutely sure of course I would have obviously had to check every single tweet from the beginning, which with over 15,000 tweets and counting isn’t a realistic option. However, the truth is that even though my tweets weren’t ‘public’ before, they never felt private either. I have colleagues following me, two of which are members of SLT at my school, as well as over a 1000 strangers so I was always mindful about what I tweeted. If I felt that I had a timeline of inappropriate or potentially damaging tweets then unlocking them would not have been an easy, or even viable, move.

  • Hi,
    this summed up my reasons for doing the same thing- I read a piece earlier this year by @indernaldept http://infernaldepart.com/to-protect-or-unprotect-your-twitter-account-a-personal-tale/
    which spurred me into action. I have been using twitter for a couple of years and was initially adamant that unprotecting tweets was a definite no-no. However, like you, I soon found that to be restrictive and meant that taking part in forums was a waste of time as noone could see what I was saying!!
    I do try to keep twitter for professional , “teacher talk” although I also use it to share creative writing with other bloggers. Unprotecting my account has led to far more interesting and useful conversations with a wide range of people. I am always mindful of the fact that anyone could read what I say; so try to use a common sense approach (and don’t tweet after a few glasses of wine!)
    Your post presents an excellent case for unprotecting accounts if you want to share ideas, resources and so on. Common sense is really the key!
    Here’s to many more shared ideas.

  • jackie schneider

    Interesting post.

    I don’t think people actually “request” to follow you – they either do or they don’t unless you block them!

    I do post controversial tweets and occasionally use obscene language because that is what I do in real life. I do not aim my tweets at kids or families I teach and if they come across them I feel no differently than I would if they came across me on a demo or at the pub.

    I love twitter and find it fantastically helpful with my teaching. It is a public forum and so I think the same rules apply to twitter as anywhere else.

  • Katharine McMeekan

    A thought provoking and interesting post Claire! I don’t protect my tweets, but I do think really carefully about what I tweet. My headteacher follows me, and I know parents of children in my class could possibly see what I tweet, so I have these audiences in mind particularly when tweeting. The way I think of it is, if I wouldn’t say it to them, I won’t tweet it. Sometimes this stifles what I want to share, but if I have something to say to an individual that I don’t want the ‘world’ to hear, I use the Direct Message option, and I know a few people who have done that to me too.
    Thank you for getting me thinking more about this!

  • I will carry on thinking carefully about what I tweet, but perhaps even more carefully than I did before

  • you know I’ve had problems but I still prefer unlocked. I felt locked stopped me contacting ppl & inhibits sharing

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