Too much information? Are interpreters oversharing on social media and what are the ethical implications both for individual linguists and the wider profession?

In 2017, as part of my Conference Interpreting MA, I was involved in a group assignment to make a presentation about one of the many practical challenges of the profession. We soon realised that we were not going to settle on the usual topics (booth manners, client liaison, dealing with agencies), but after a few weeks we still had nothing to work with. Our eureka moment came in a very millennial way – via a bit of Instagram scrolling. A quick search under the hashtag #ConferenceInterpreting provided a barrage of videos and pictures, some of which were rather worrying.

The material included interpreters recording themselves in the booth and uploading videos while on assignment, pictures of preparation papers with clients’ details in full view, geotagging (i.e. adding geographical identification metadata), revealling the names of clients and the not so LOLable #ViewFromTheBooth hashtag. Then there was a myriad of selfies: selfies in sound booths, selfies in meeting rooms, buffet queue selfies and, why not, hotel bathtub selfies (#TiredTerp).

It seemed that interpreters were getting increasingly narcissistic. Perhaps, with social media being part and parcel of their upbringing, this seemed a normal thing to do for up-and-coming interpreters – yet older, more experienced colleagues were over-sharing too. Whatever the reason, we had worrying quantitative data showing that interpreters often did not know how to negotiate their social media presence while ensuring that client confidentiality – and the reputation of our profession – was being maintained.

Some may argue that this is a matter of style, but it is clear that existing codes of conduct are being ignored. It was here that we found a gap where we could really make a difference to the community. We ran an online survey which informed our campaign, entitled ‘Conference Interpreting: Confidentiality and the use of social media’. We made a quirky video of do’s and don’ts, and used the hashtag #1ntHUSH to push the campaign on Twitter, where most of the conference interpreting interaction takes place. This ‘hushtag’ invited interpreters to be quiet when it came to sharing specific information about their interpreting assignments.

In their monthly podcast, the Troublesome Terps were early champions of the initiative. Since then, #1ntHUSH has become a tool that can be used to produce online content that is risk-free, engaging, creative, educational and cool. This was our contribution to the community. In 2018, it was given the AIIC UK & Ireland (International Association of Conference Interpreters) seal of approval, when they tweeted a link to our video.

A year after the campaign launch, I wrote my MA thesis on the subject, posing the question: where do we go from here? The answer is that we continue to highlight developments to the existing guidelines and recommendations for online use, as published by the various official bodies and agencies. We continue leading by example, keeping the discussion going in the hope that our school of thought becomes the industry standard when it comes to promotion, networking and social media interaction. We continue to explore how this issue is tackled in other industries and extrapolate their findings to our own industry. We continue inviting new graduates into the conversation by providing specific training and mentoring programmes.

Social media and confidentiality is a topic where the creative side of trainee conference interpreters can be explored. This should be refined via mentoring and training in conference interpreting courses. We continue until we reach a consensus among stakeholders within the industry.