Facebook, Privacy & Roz Ward

Roz Ward: youtube

Roz Ward: youtube

Chief architect of the Safe Schools program, Roz Ward, has had her suspension rescinded by
La Trobe University, after she was suspended over a Facebook post.

La Trobe university should never have suspended Roz Ward in the first place. They have now acknowledged this and grudgingly backed down.

ward repreive

All she did was to make a silly joke, which she was fool enough to share on Facebook (it was equally foolish to put her speech to a Marxist conference online). All perfectly legal, but in the present political climate, dumb. There’s a raging fire going on around homosexuality and children. You don’t, if you’re smart, go out of your way to pour petrol on it, thus putting the kids you’re trying to save in jeopardy.

That said, the university should have been out there defending her academic freedom, and her freedom of speech, not attacking her. It shows just how corrupt our academic institutions have become when a loud noise from a cashed-up bully like Jeff Kennett leads them to immediately abandon one of the oldest and most important of principles, academic freedom, without which universities simply cannot function.

It is, however, a sad fact that craven managements will always tend to kow-tow to bullies when they really ought to stand strong behind their own employee. Something of which, as an occasionally controversial writer and broadcaster, I have painful personal experience.

The flag joke was on her private FB page and leaked. This sharply demonstrates that NOTHING on Facebook (or anywhere else online) is private. Period. You can argue the toss all you like. You can use all the privacy settings and labels you want. If it’s online, it will find its way out. If you want to make a private joke among friends, tell them in a Messenger group, or some other more secure communication app, and you might stand a chance. But never put it out in the open on Facebook itself. It’s a PA system, not your private diary.

Do you know, personally and directly (by which I mean, have you met and got to know in the real world) everyone on your Facebook friends list, before you added them? Every person who is a member of groups you belong to, or a fellow supporter of your favourite pages? Can you trust them? No.

If you are a controversial public figure, like Roz Ward, some of those ‘friends’ will be stalkers and lurkers monitoring you with an unfriendly eye. Christians read atheists posts and blogs. Commies read Nazis. Fierce patriots follow internationalist citizens of the world. Anarchists keep track of Tories. Your readers may be members of political parties, journalists, friends of journalists, churchgoers, politicians, employers hiding behind pseudonyms… you can and will never know.

I have around 2000 Facebook friends, the majority of whom I’ve never met, and am never likely to. I never give them anything I don’t want them to have. Correspondingly, everything they put on Facebook is grist to my mill.

I am a journalist: a writer, a blogger. I ran a gay paper and a major gay radio program in Melbourne for years. It’s clearly flagged on Facebook. It’s tolerably well-known. I don’t hide it or pretend to be something I’m not. Like most of my tribe, I’m insatiably curious. I want to have a big wide-open friends list because I want as much info as I can get.

Facebook sometimes reminds me of a public lavatory: you can read some fascinating stories on the walls, some of which are worth passing on. Or following up. You can leave messages of your own, and see what responses you get. Occasionally someone has a good revealing spew.

As a writer, it doesn’t matter if you’re talking to me in that toilet, at a bar or a party, in the interval at the theatre, or anywhere on Facebook, it’s up to you to bear in mind who you’re talking to, and don’t give me information you don’t want me to have. Facebook may be mostly inane drivel, but it is also one of my workspaces. Like all my fellow journos, unless you tell me something is off the record, it’s on. As am I. Always.

Tell me that BEFORE you spill the beans, and we’re fine. Tell me afterwards, and you’re too late. From then on it’s up to my goodwill as to whether I accept your restriction or not. And since I’m a nice guy, I usually will. In addition, I will usually ask you first, out of courtesy, if I may quote you, and will generally abide by your wishes. But I do not have to. Facebook is a public forum, whether any of us likes it or not. Something Roz Ward ought to have thought about before she made that joke.

About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. "Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)