We’ve had a little bit of news coverage here in South Carolina this week. Front and center has been the contents of certain emails written by a public official. A constant advisory to both our clients and my students at the University of South Carolina is not to write anything in an email that you wouldn’t want published on the front page of The State newspaper. In an ironic teaching point, the emails that have become so newsworthy ended up exactly where the writer never intended them to be: On the front page of The State. At this point, the emails are now the stuff of legend and have since been transmitted around the world. That genie, which was very private, is now very much out of the bottle.
The emails from South Carolina this week are not the first illustration of electronic transmissions getting unwanted publicity. Since the advent of this medium, many captains of industry, politicians, job seekers, employees, etc. have stupidly sent embarrassing/incriminating/poorly worded emails that ended up in the public eye. The specific examples are by now too numerous to delineate. Moreover, there likely have been millions of instances where an email has caused private, but nevertheless damaging, angst for the sender. Regardless of the circumstances, the bottom line remains this: When you write something in an email, assume that folks others than the intended recipients may read what you have composed. With that in mind, your likelihood of being embarrassed/fired/divorced/run out of office substantially diminishes.
P.S. For all you social media types, the above rule also applies to Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and blog entries.
Other key pointers:
• If the subject matter is intensely confidential, carefully consider whether you need to communicate it in an email. Once you hit “send,” your control over where the information ultimately ends up is lost. You will recall that we still have a telephone system in this country. Consider picking up the phone instead.
• Fill in the recipient line last. And then double check it to ensure the person or persons you are sending your email to are the correct recipients. This cuts down on inadvertently sending an email to the wrong crowd.
• Consider setting up your email to eliminate prior messages when you hit “reply” to an email. While potentially cryptic for the recipient, the elimination of the string removes the inclusion of previous communication you would rather keep from becoming knowledge to third parties who might come across the exchange. If you want to keep the string going for purposes of context, just hit “forward” rather than “reply.”