The Internet is great because it lets you look up just about any information, and every electronic message you send is delivered instantly, lives forever, and is infinitely reproducible. You can find the freezing point of carbon dioxide, just out of idle curiosity; you can find the text of the book you left in your locker at school, but need to write your paper TONIGHT; you can find the directions to anywhere you need to be. You can invite 100 people to a party for free; and you can keep in touch with family all over the world; you can keep pictures, songs, and tickets immediately available forever. Believe me, that wasn’t the case when I was in high school. The world is better now.
The Internet is horrible because it lets you look up just about any information, and every electronic message you send is delivered instantly, lives forever, and is infinitely reproducible. That means one poorly-thought-out text, email, tweet, or naughty picture can haunt you FOREVER. Believe me, that wasn’t the case when I was in high school. The world is worse now.
Both of the above paragraphs are completely true. Widespread Internet access has made the world much different from what it was like in say, 1990, for better or for worse. Really, for better AND for worse. Let’s take a look at the various forms of e-communication we all use.
Over the years, I’ve seen people at my work accidentally send things to literally everyone in the organization. They mistook “send all” for “send” or the special address for announcements to everyone for the address they meant. We’ve all seen people hit “send all” when they were making a snarky response to someone’s group email, which sent the response directly to the target of the mean humor. Surely, we can all think “Oh, those people were idiots; I would never do THAT!” [I know- “No we can’t, and don’t call me Shirley.” Very funny. ;-) ] Everyone sing along with me: “Dumb-da-dumb-da-dummmmb!” However, we’ve all done dumb things, and will continue to do so.
The best advice for any electronic communication is “Keep your words soft and sweet, for one day you may have to eat them.” Hey, that’s the best advice for ANY communication. If you’re obnoxious and rude in an email, rest assured that THAT particular email will live on and represent you. For examples of massive email gaffes that people actually made on the job, and in other contexts, see http://www.snopes.com/embarrass/email/email.asp
One such email on the Snopes site was written a young senatorial intern named Paul Kelly Tripplehorn, who broke up with his girlfriend by email [use the link above; you’ll see a link to it]. One lesson you should learn is : If you wouldn’t want your grandmother to read it from the front page of the newspaper, don’t put it in email. This especially applies to relationship. If it’s not a cute picture of you with your significant other ( boyfriend, girlfriend, partner, etc.) (I’ll abbreviate it to“SO”), or an innocuous, happy announcement (“We went to see the Grand Canyon!”), just leave it offline or limit it to your Facebook relationship status. Don’t break up with your SO by email, text, chat, etc. Don’t reject someone by any electronic means. Don’t use electronic communications to insult anyone who’s rejected you by electronic means.
If you absolutely MUST use email, texts, Twitter, etc., to handle such a matter, for goodness’ sake, DON’T WRITE ANYTHING like Mr. Tripplehorn’s email. He not only lost his internship, but also got himself into my personal Jerk Hall of Fame, Internet Section, by actually writing an insanely harsh, scathing email to a woman who inexplicably wanted to be his girlfriend. I can’t imagine THOSE words were easy for him to eat. To put it another way, if the person you’re arguing with really is as awful as you think he or she is, he or she is easily awful enough to forward it to your employer, your friends, your family, and two or three hundred other “close friends,” any of whom may post it ANYWHERE, either to punish you, or just for grins.
I am a relative Twitter newbie – even though I’ve had an account since 2009, I haven’t used it much. But I can’t help but notice news about tweets that get people in trouble – there’s a new story every few days.
Take the case, of Justine Sacco, a woman lost her job while on a flight from U.S. to Africa, and didn’t even know it until she landed in Africa, because she tweeted she was on her way to Africa and…
“Hope I don’t get AIDS – just kidding – I’m white!”, which got all over the world very quickly. Racially-tinged AIDS jokes about Africa don’t work well in the corporate world. You can read more at http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/15/magazine/how-one-stupid-tweet-ruined-justine-saccos-life.html?_r=0
Similarly, the mayor of Airway, a small town in Washington state made a racist tweet about Michelle Obama. You can get information from the link below. [http://www.salon.com/2015/07/17/gorilla_face_michelle_obama_only_attractive_to_monkey_man_barack_wa_mayor_refuses_to_resign_after_racist_facebook_rant/ ] To the best of my knowledge, he still refuses to resign, but I don’t see a bright political future for him.
Also, if you’ve got your Twitter set up to re-broadcast from other sites or applications (e.g., auto-broadcast your YouTube likes, or hooked into your Facebook or Instagram), be careful about what you do on those sites. “Liking” a video others may find offensive is one step towards having other people accuse you of being a nasty person.
We’ve all heard “A picture is worth a thousand words.” That means a poorly-advised picture can be about 1,000 times as likely to get you in trouble as a bad tweet. A “selfie” of you doing something stupid can get you in much more trouble than mere words, since after all, it’s a picture of YOU doing whatever you shouldn’t have done, rather than some easily-deniable text [“I was joking!” “Someone hacked my account!”]. What can you do- say “Someone who looks just like me took embarrassing selfies and posted them on my account, just to get people to harass me?” See the advice on personal websites, Facebook, and other social media sites, below.
Personal Websites, Facebook, and Other Social Media Sites
For All Social Media or Personal Sites:
To pass background checks, check your background! I mean, look at the design or pictures you have as your website or social media site’s “background” or “wallpaper.” Does it say something about you that you’d rather not tell the public? Some questions to help you answer that question is “Would I want to give the person who runs this site a job? Would I want this person going to a school I run? Would I trust this person with my money? Would I want to be friends with this person?”
I’m not saying to be “phony,” or to post only really popular statements, but you don’t have to share ALL the details of your personal life with the world. If you have strong political or religious beliefs, that’s great. Try not to be obnoxious about them [I know, “obnoxious” is a relative term, and no matter what, you’ll offend some people sometimes, but if all you ever post about is one topic, chances are people who don’t share your beliefs will find you annoying. It’s good to post about a number of different topics.
If you want to discuss your innocuous interests (say bicycling or gardening) in a non-offensive way, go for it! That makes you look more interesting to anyone viewing you site, and can only help you if your statements are true.
However, what you do in your romantic life, what you look like nude or semi-nude, your substance use history and preferences, and your opinion of other people’s races, religions, the opposite sex are likely to cause you trouble. Basically, it’s Murphy’s law at work – “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” Any statements expressing racism, sexism, and homophobia will come back to haunt you at the worst possible times, as they should. Hey, if you’re a bigot, you should expect to suffer the consequences of expressing your opinions. Even if you know “Anyone who knows me would know I’m joking!,” it’s hard to get your tone across on a written webpage, and even audio and video can be interpreted differently by different people.
Even more frightening is the idea that if you are under the age of consent, or your significant other is, you can get ARRESTED for sending naughty pictures or messages. No, seriously! Some district attorneys have had the um, “interesting,” and “creative” idea of prosecuting underage girls for sending naked pics of themselves to their boyfriends and others. [See, for example http://wwlp.com/2014/04/24/3-teens-arrested-for-sexting-each-other/ , or just Google “Teenage girl arrested for sexting.”] The charge? Producing child pornography. Never mind that those laws are supposed to protect minor (underage) children, not prosecute them. Even if you win in court, you’re still guilty in the court of public opinion of being a pervert, an idiot, or both.
The same goes for any pictures of you “partying,” with alcohol or other “party favors.” If you’re underage, alcohol is illegal and you’re inviting the police to keep a close eye on you. Recreational marijuana is still illegal for everyone under federal law and in all states except Colorado, to the best of my knowledge, so really, the pictures where you or your friends have beer bottles or suspicious-looking hand-rolled cigarettes in your hands… Even if you have a medical marijuana permit, pot’s still illegal under federal law, so that could come back to haunt you if you come to the feds’ attention, or you apply for a federal government job, or for federal financial aid. The federal government requires you to agree not to possess, manufacture, distribute, or use illegal drugs if you’re going to receive financial aid. Failure to do so can make you partially or completely ineligible to receive ANY financial aid. Ouch! See, for example, https://fafsa.ed.gov/help/fftoc03a.htm At the very least, any drug “trouble” you have while on financial aid is going to cause a HUGE hassle for you; at the worst, you won’t be able to pay the money you need to finish college. There’s no need to invite trouble into your life by posting something that tells law enforcement, your employer, your school, etc. “Hey, look, I’m a drunken druggie!”
Be very careful what you put on your site. Unlike Facebook and some other social media sites, I don’t know of any simple way you can block other people from seeing whatever you have up on your URL. Things that may seem innocuous, or at most, a little irreverent, may REALLY offend some people who see your site. This happened to a judge on the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals – Justice Kozinski. See http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-kozinski12-2008jun12-story.html for more details. He’s still on the court, but he was and is powerful and lucky, and from what I saw of the website’s contents when this first came out in 2008, the material wasn’t THAT bad. If you have the same problem with an employer or college admissions officer seeing YOUR site, well, as the saying goes, “You should be so lucky.” Trust me; you probably won’t.
Facebook or Other Social Media
Use Your Privacy Settings.
It’s best to know how to work these settings, so the posts you only want a certain audience to see are only visible by that audience – you can make things viewable by the general public, your friends, your friends but not “acquaintances,” or only by you or certain groups you’ve defined. This can save you a lot of embarrassment. If you’re on a site with no privacy settings, you’re “naked.” Everyone can see you; proceed with caution. Test the site by going to your page without logging in and/or using the site’s “public view” to see what the general public sees on your site. If you see things that shouldn’t be there, either fix the privacy settings or take the offensive items off.
Alter Ego, Anyone?
Just as Spiderman is Peter Parker’s “alter ego,” (alternate personality) there’s nothing wrong with you having another account with a pseudonym (fake name) for your more controversial posts. You can have a “sanitized” profile for your family, co-workers, etc., and make a different profile for your “after dark” activities. However, there’s no guarantee that people won’t figure out that you and “Galactic Guinea Pig” are the same person. So it’s still best not to post things you wouldn’t want to admit came from you.
Not Everyone in Your Real Life Should Be Your Online Friend.
I know, you want to be friendly with your boss, your co-workers, your teachers, and all your classmates. The problem is, social media sites, especially Facebook, will let people know where you were when you made a post, especially from a mobile device.
While their location is not always accurate, the “Facebook made a MISTAKE!” defense isn’t going to help you if you post a picture of you at an afternoon baseball game on a day when you called in “sick” to work. If your boss is friends with you on any social media site, he or she can easily figure out what’s going on. Your boss, your teachers, and anyone you don’t really trust shouldn’t be your Facebook friends. Even if you limit your viewers to your actual friends, remember, your friend might share your private posts with someone he or she shouldn’t, or your best friend may well become your worst enemy, and decide to get revenge by messing up your college or job applications by showing “your” private material to people who shouldn’t see it.
Summary: Be Careful!
The best way not to get “caught” posting something offensive online is not to do post anything offensive. If it’s not something you’d be proud to admit in public, don’t post it online. If it’s something you’d be proud to admit, DO post it online – it can only help you! I hope this helps you – please contact me or comment if you have any questions or comments about this blog entry.
Author: John Linneball Who did you think? ;-)
I'm the proprietor and only tutor for this business; that's why I named it after me.