“Don’t let your degree get in the way of your education” – Twitter’s Nick Pickles speaks to SCAN

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The UK Senior Manager of Public Policy at Twitter, Nick Pickles, came to Lancaster on Tuesday Week 4 to deliver a talk on “getting ahead in social media.”

Pickles studied Law in Durham University in 2002, and in 2005 became the President of Durham Students Union.

He told SCAN: “Running a Students’ Union was an incredible opportunity, but it taught me the importance of setting clear objectives and focusing your efforts.”

“There were hundreds of things I could have been working on – much like now – but if you want to achieve something, focus on the things that really matter and keep checking back to make sure your meeting the original objectives that were set at the beginning.”

“The rest is noise, as they say.”

Pickles spent the next five years working in PR – with a brief tenure as a Conservative Party Candidate in 2010 – before joining Big Brother Watch in 2011 as Director.

Big Brother Watch is a campaigning group “with the intention of exposing the true scale of the surveillance state by challenging the policies which threaten our privacy”, as they explain on their website.

Asked what Twitter does for user privacy, Pickles explained: “One of the most important things is our Transparency Report – we publish data on all the requests we receive, covering user data requests and content removal – and we’re always thinking of ways to improve this and better inform our users.”

“Equally, we play a proactive role in debates around the world when governments are considering surveillance legislation, from the recent USA Freedom Act to our submissions on the UK’s Investigatory Powers Bill.”

“Defending the voices of our users is a core principle of the company.”

The latest Twitter transparency report reveals the UK Government made 631 requests regarding 1,071 accounts in the first 6 months of 2016. Twitter complied with 76% of these requests. Only Japan and the US made more requests.

In 2014, Lancaster University’s Dr. Claire Hardaker was invited to Twitter’s London Headquarters to present her findings about anti-social behaviour online to the Police, Crown Prosecution Service and Twitter.

Pickles explained how Twitter is addressing its problem with ‘trolls’: “Fundamentally we know that if people don’t feel safe then they won’t express themselves and at it’s core Twitter is a platform for people to express themselves.”

“So we know we have come short in this area in the past, it’s an issue that we talk about every day and we know it’s not something we can ever say is ‘done’.

“That said, it’s also important to recognise that removing content from the internet doesn’t remove prejudice from people’s minds, so we need to do more to challenge prejudice and hatred in society online and offline.”

“We’ve also created user controls to place the power in the hands of the users to decide what they do and don’t want to see.”

For the last 10 years, Pickles has also been a Freelance Music Photographer. He said he believes that social media will always be about sharing breaking news, however he believes multimedia will grow in its role: “Unlike the past ten years, it won’t just be text – video is going to the be bread and butter of the next generation of internet users, so while it’s new now to watch the NFL on Twitter, pretty soon it’s going to seem strange to think social media and TV were ever separate.”

Reflecting on his time at Durham University, Pickles extended advice to readers of SCAN: “Don’t let your degree get in the way of your education. I stole that phrase but it’s absolutely true!”

“Go see random performances, try out new societies, learn new skills. Try to remember some of them. Then do more!”

“You’re surrounded by smart people, so learn from them and talk to them. And don’t drink cheap wine, it only makes your hangovers worse.”

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