Morality aside, editors need to know whether information is shared privately or publicly so we know how it should be cited in published work. I’m not going to talk about whether privately obtained information should be shared—such as disclosing the private correspondence between historic figures, accessed in historic archives—only about what is private and what isn’t.
In the days of paper correspondence, “private” was easier to spot: A letter addressed to one person? Private. A speech made at an event? Public. Let’s look at how this pans out for modern communications, and especially for social media.
What Is Private Communication
Some forms are obviously private:
- Email sent to one or more addressees is clearly private. I say addressees because of the issue of Listservs, which I’ll get to in another post.
- A private message or direct message (PM, IM, or DM in Internet lingo).
- Post and comments in a closed group or circle of friends.
- A message shared among a small, closed group.
- Snapchat messages (unless in a public “story”).
- Text messages.
- A phone call.
- In-game chats between players.
What Is Public Communication
Read it on Reddit? That’s public. You don’t even need an account to read Reddit. A post or comment in an open group or public post in social media can be considered public. The privacy status of comments follows the privacy determination of the original post.
Posts on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter*, comments section on a blog or newspaper, a podcast, or any other medium where posts are not protected from public view are considered public. If anyone can see it without jumping through any hoops such as subscription, membership, or “connecting,” then it’s public.
On Facebook, if a post is marked with the globe icon rather than the silhouette of people, then the post is public. Same goes for LinkedIn now. Hover the cursor over the icon and a pop-up label will reveal this.
(*It is still possible to have protected accounts on Twitter where viewing is restricted to approved users only. Those are private.)
In the next installment, I’ll look at the grey areas of public vs. private communication.