Social media is the great equalizer of our time. It gives everyone the same opportunity to share their views, thoughts, wisdoms and gripes — and people take full advantage of that on a regular basis. But the power to say what you want when you want about whatever you want comes with consequences, ranging from public shaming to getting fired.
On the more benign end of the spectrum, consider the story of Alex Johnston, a political candidate for office in 2015’s Canadian federal election. She was she made seven years prior about Auschwitz. These posts came to light weeks before voters went to the polls. And while she was a long shot to win anyway, this revelation all but guaranteed a loss. While members of her party won surrounding ridings, she only captured 16% of the vote in hers.
On the other side of the spectrum is a group of bank executives from HSBC in London who were they thought was just a funny joke. Clearly, the higher-ups at the publicly traded company they work for didn’t quite see it that way.
These are obviously extreme examples, but the lesson is clear: think before you post. Think about who might see it, how they might see it and what they might do with it.
Five ways to avoid social media-related problems
1. Never post on social media when you’re angry
Ranting and raving when you’re upset is human nature. And when that happens, you say things you regret (everyone does). But these utterances belong in the ether, not on the internet. So, if you feel the need to get negative thoughts off your chest, do it in a Word document. Write pages and pages of vitriol, save it if you want to and go back the next day to read through it. You’ll be surprised how differently you’ll feel after 24 hours, and you’ll be thankful you didn’t put your temporary ugliness into the universe.
2. Steer clear of sharing your political opinions on social media
This isn’t to say you shouldn’t share them. If you’re with friends at a pub and the topic comes up, let it all out. But delivering your political manifesto on social media is kind of like an unsolicited diatribe people don’t want. Also, one day your views might change, but that won’t matter because what you put out there today is there forever.
3. Leave work out of your social media
Having issues with your boss or your colleagues or your industry? Social media is NOT the place to air those grievances. The first thing a potential new employer will do is check out your social media channels. If they see you going off on your current colleagues, they’ll be far less inclined to hire you.
4. Don’t overshare your personal life on social media
If you’re struggling, seek help from professionals. That’s why they’re there. Getting opinions from the social media mob on how to deal with personal crises won’t do you very good because (a) you’ll get too many opinions and (b) you’ll forever be known as the person with that issue. And you’ll always be judged for it. Is it fair? No. Is it reality? Yes.
Putting typos out into the world paints you as careless — like showing up to a dinner party in a stained shirt. And again, if a potential employer checks out your feeds and sees that, they’ll think “well, if they’re like this in their personal life, are they really that different in business?”
Social media isn’t going anywhere. On the contrary, it’s become a fact of our lives, and one you need to respect lest you wind up on the wrong side of a story.