The Chatham House Rule in the age of social media

Writing in the Financial Times earlier this week, former government communications director Alastair Campbell made the following comments when asked if business leaders should be wary of speaking out:

If you are in a senior position in politics or at the very top in business, it is probably as well to assume that life is on the record. When the organisers of any event you are speaking at tell you it is being held under “Chatham House rules”, and that everyone in the room is utterly discreet and trustworthy, it is best to nod and smile. Make a mental note that it is difficult for Chatham House rules to co-exist with Twitter, Facebook and the 24/7 media culture. Part of the art of after-dinner speaking is giving a sense of indiscretion without saying anything that you would not wish to be used against you in a different context. It still leaves lots of scope for revelation, candour, frankness and wit, but it is done on the speaker’s terms, not the terms of someone putting out a garbled or gossipy version afterwards.

But in a letter to the FT published today, Keith Burnet, communications director of Chatham House, says Campbell is wrong in his point about Twitter and Facebook:

The Rule can be used effectively as long as the person tweeting or messaging reports only what was said and does not identify – directly or indirectly – the speaker or another participant.

Perhaps part of Campbell’s point is the use of social media to “broadcast news” by a wider group than trained journalists familiar with Chatham House Rules. While a reporter at an event might not directly or indirectly identify participants is it possible for some kind of “jigsaw identification” to take place with updates from organisers, members of the public and speakers themselves filtering into coverage of the event?

One thought on “The Chatham House Rule in the age of social media

  1. Martin Belam

    I think it very much depends on the meeting though. If I was running something under Chatham House conditions, I’d also ask people at the start to kindly not live-blog or live-tweet the event.

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