Sunday Mail Column for Sunday 27 June 2010: the one about the dangers of email

I imagine that God* thinks we’re all pretty thick.  It doesn’t matter how many downfalls we witness, we seem to have great difficulty learning the dangers of putting things in writing.

Don’t get me wrong. As a writer, I’m all for, well, writing. I have boxes of old letters I can’t bear to throw away.  Birthday cards sent to me by my Nanna when I was small.  Secret stupid notes my best friend Jo and I passed to each other during Mr Selleck’s Modern History class. Bundles of loving letters my mum and dad wrote to me when I left home for London – full of recipes and newspaper clippings and news from home.

They’re as precious to me as anything I own. There’s something so lasting about a letter. And that’s the problem.

In the past year alone we’ve seen innumerable examples of people who have come undone all because they’ve forgotten the simple rule: Never put in writing what you wouldn’t want to see splashed across the front page of the newspaper.

A year ago Entertainment Books employee Abbey Sherwell famously hit the REPLY button instead of FORWARD when venting her feelings about a client.  I think it was the line “Why are all the people I deal with so f*****d in the head???” that probably pushed café owner Craig Morrissy over the edge. Morrissy replied saying he was cancelling his contract with the company and that he’d be forwarding Sherwell’s email to his business network. Sherwell, meanwhile, was sacked immediately. Apparently there’s no truth to the rumour she’s formed a support group with Godwin Gretch.

But how close have we all come to doing something similar?  That’s the problem with email.  It allows us to act immediately when our heads are far from cool.  In that moment when we’re annoyed and want to scream back, “YOU MORON!” – we can.  And we do. Often with dire consequences.

Then there are the moments when our personal emails fall into the wrong hands. A scorned lover forwards our saucy love letters to the world. One blink and you’ll have your fifteen minutes of fame, all right.  Just not the type you were hoping for.

And what about Twitter and Facebook? In our desperate bid to look hilarious – we forget that so often those people we’re publicly slagging off are actually real people. Not characters.  Our comments about someone’s hair or heritage or whatever look cruel rather than clever.

So whether you’re slagging off a Master Chef contestant on Twitter, bitching about a client or confessing your undying love for a colleague — stop. Put down the pen or step away from the keyboard. God may not be watching (She’s pretty busy keeping an eye on Lindsay Lohan, I imagine) but your employer, future employer and pretty much the rest of the world probably is.

* Or whatever higher power you may believe in: Buddha/Allah/Michael Buble etc etc

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About Bec

Over the past 25 years Rebecca Sparrow has earned a living as a travel writer, a television publicist, a marketing executive, a magazine editor, a TV scriptwriter, a radio producer, a newspaper columnist and as an author.

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