‘Off the Record’ in social media

WHEN I was a full time journalist some 30 odd years ago there was a game of cat and mouse we used to play with our sources. Basically we bait them to say things we could use in our stories and hoped they’d agree. The conversation would go like this (usually over beer or some sort of alcoholic beverage):

Me: So, what’s this I hear that blah-blah-blah?(feed the rumor, info, or whatever).

Source: Yeah, you heard right. He did blah-blah-blah.

Me: Really, as in for real? (Slowly takes out pocket notebook and ballpen, sometimes even tape recorder.)

Source: Hey, wait. Off the record.

Me: Awwwww… (pa-cute), But that’s so interesting. And juicy bit of info on the story I’m doing. It’ll really help me.

At this point you really hope that the source would go on record, or at least agree to be an unnamed source (as in “sources said” or even the infamous “a source close to the negotiations”) or even as deep-deep-deep background to help as a lead or pursue the story further with other possible sources.


Should the source insist that it’s off the record then you respect that. Try next time or just drop it altogether since burning a source may have you lose him or her for any future endeavors. At best you don’t lose a drinking buddy.

But in this day and age of social media, smartphones on hand and broad wireless connectivity is it safe to assume that private conversations stays private, that what goes on in Las Vegas (or Pasay City for that matter) stays there?

Some folk like their every move being recorded, and thus turn on their phone’s location settings which automatically posts on Facebook where they are. That is, of course, their choice. Now if a friend sees me in a hotel lobby in an animated conversation with a political figure, snaps my photo and posts it on Facebook, even tagging me and other people, is that acceptable behavior? Is it the same as a pa-cute post with smiley faces saying: hey friend, saw you earlier in the hotel lobby with another person, but was too far to greet you!

Those old school fogeys like me would still abide by the rules of clearing with sources first, even if they were not formal sources for news stories but even of certain conversations and message exchanges. Definitely not along the lines of what Cynthia Patag did, unilaterally posting a private message from Jim Paredes’ wife to the more public venue of her Facebook and Twitter timelines.

But in general we also have to live with the fact that anything you post on your timeline – whether to a limited group or to the general public – cannot be protected by any off the record rule. You put it out there, live with it.

And that’s why I find it a bit strange when I read comments in FB posts saying “Pa share, ha?” Seriously, once out there it is no longer a private conversation. If you want to keep it between you and your friend just PM, DM, Viber message, text, call or meet up with your friend. And make sure you say it’s “just between us girls,” if not Off The Record.

Of course, that all depends on how much of a friend that person is. Gossip, after all, is the great national pastime

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