Does "closed" now mean "open"?


In social media, some groups are closed. In other words, they are not visible to the world at large and you must apply to become a member and access the content; others are open and discussions are visible to anyone. The platforms vary but could be a dedicated website, a Facebook group, Yahoo or Google e-group or a blog.

The closed groups I have belonged to have tended to apply either the Chatham House Rule, in which content can be shared outside the group but cannot be attributed to a particular individual, or the Vegas Rule (what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas), where nothing is allowed to leave the group.

In a profession where so many of us are self-employed, I believe it is critical to have a forum where ideas can be exchanged. The past 10 or 15 years have also seen an alarming rise in rogue translation agencies and businesses marketing dubious training to translators. Closed groups can offer a vital means of communicating with colleagues on these subjects. There are publicly accessible directories containing feedback or reviews of agencies but these do not always provide the whole picture. In a closed environment, much more is revealed and for translators who work with agencies their colleagues can prove to be an invaluable source of information.

I once belonged to a professional association’s e-group that I had understood applied the Chatham House Rule. Members varied in experience from a few months to several decades and one of the most common questions to be posted were requests for opinions on particular agencies. One day, a query was posted about an agency with which I had had a poor experience, so I recounted the facts as tactfully and briefly as I could. Alarmingly, within half an hour, I received a voicemail from the agency owner swiftly followed by an e-mail referencing comments I had made about them on “a website”.

I cannot say I was best pleased since I didn’t know how my observations had been reported. I replied explaining that my comments had been made on a closed list and that they were not off-the-cuff but in response to another member’s specific request for feedback on them, as indeed happened in this group several times a week. Nobody came forward to explain why they had felt a need to report back to the agency or name the source of the comments and the moderator’s response was simply that we should not post anything we would not wish to have repeated elsewhere. Since this was not my understanding of the group’s rules on confidentiality I decided to move on, as did a few others.

I had almost forgotten about this incident until a disagreement recently took place in a closed group belonging to another professional association, one that actually has the words “CONFIDENTIAL” plastered in huge letters across the top of the page. Content was leaked along with the names of the individuals involved and when confronted about it, the person in question denied this had happened, yet proceeded to list the only four people she had shared the information with along with what she felt were her legitimate reasons for doing so. Another definite violation on both counts. This was promptly followed a few weeks later by a further hoo-ha about confidentiality being breached in another translators’ closed group, one I don’t belong to but in which a member, feeling it was quite acceptable to quote his colleagues’ venting and cussing (albeit anonymously), curiously made it the subject of a conference presentation!

One has to wonder about the motivation and who would win “Chief Dobber” award in these three instances. It also set me thinking that in this age of social media where many are willing to share their most intimate details in public spaces, the lines between closed and open, public and private, have become awfully blurred. I find it worrying that in a profession where we are often party to a substantial amount of sensitive information, some translators don’t appear to understand the meaning of the word ‘confidential’ – especially in a professional context. Some favour transparency and wonder why any professional forum should be closed, but there’s the rub; we work in an unregulated profession, one in which rules either don’t exist or are ignored and in which vast numbers of unqualified individuals and businesses are selling low-grade services. If anything, greater scrutiny is called for and this cannot realistically take place on an open forum.

The lesson for all of us is that now that many groups have found homes on Facebook – a platform which encourages us to share every aspect of our lives and a philosophy that some translators have chosen to apply to the professional closed groups – we must be prepared to relinquish our own right to privacy and expect our contributions to be shared. As a consequence, I have opted for the more straightforward route and chosen to steer clear of the majority of these groups, in the hope that the professional lists I do frequent will resolutely enforce confidentiality where it is so desperately needed and which is so clearly missing from the social media platforms.

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