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QUESTION

I was having a convo with my friend via twitter and we said some bad things about another girl, but she didn't have a twitter so we didn't think she'd see it. She found the tweets right after we posted them and got upset at us, but we never intended for her to see them! Was it still wrong for my friend and i to post those things?

ANSWER

I think so, and here’s why.

As soon as you post something online, you give up control of where it goes and who sees it. Even if the girl doesn’t have a Twitter account, she can still see what was written about her. It’s easy for someone following you to retweet your tweet, or to cut and paste what you wrote onto a different site, like Facebook - even with privacy settings. Since retweeting and cutting-and-pasting are so easy to do, your tweets could reach a much larger group of people than if you and your friend had passed a handwritten note back and forth in class. And you can’t tear up a tweet the way you can a piece of paper.

Even if you could somehow make sure the girl wouldn’t see what you wrote, you shouldn’t post bad things about her. Like you and your friends, she has feelings. The tricky thing about the Internet is that it’s difficult to see how our actions affect someone else, because when we post something online we’re looking at a screen, not a person. But just because we don’t see the people we write about online doesn’t mean they don’t feel the effects of what's been written.   

Katie Davis
Project Manager of the Developing Minds and Digital Media Project at Harvard Project Zero

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