The following is a column, slightly revised, that appeared recently in the Daily Corinthian newspaper.
I don’t know which disturbs me more, that some Facebook users make posts without realizing what they are revealing or that they are aware of what they are revealing and simply don’t care. Either way, it’s often embarrassing and occasionally alarming to be a witness to the drama that results when we fail to manage our social media presence.
At first glance, Facebook looks like a place to connect with others, but, time after time, it’s revealed as one more place where we find out what kind of boundaries the people who call themselves friends actually have. Too often, it’s evident that everyone who wears the label “friend” isn’t one.
Join me for a foray into the juggernaut of chatter that calls itself Facebook. Let’s take a quick look at possible consequences of online comments.
Most of us are nice folks and don’t automatically think that our friends or our “friends of friends” aren’t as nice as we are. The reality, however, is that nefarious types search Facebook for information about vacation schedules. Oh, yes, all those lovely vacation photos are a giveaway for times when a house is unattended. Even if there is a house sitter, the idea that no one’s home can make the house and the sitter vulnerable to a break in. It’s not as much fun, but it’s safer to show restraint and post those pictures upon returning home. Ask close friends privately not to refer to your absence online and refrain from it yourself.
Employers (current and potential) will check your online presence. This is reality, so assume it will happen. It may seem harmless to post a picture of yourself out with friends, but remember that photos don’t go away. Any image that you post, or are tagged in, which gives the slightest suggestion of inebriation or lack of judgment can be more potent than any resume’. Does that scare you? It should. One photo can follow you and be the persistent visual reference that you never wanted.
A cursory scan of social media reveals that many folks are shockingly careless about work related posts. Never post complaints about a boss or that you’re not satisfied with a job, or you may find yourself leaving that job sooner than you planned. Take for granted that your comments will be seen by your boss and co-workers, because they probably will.
Also work-related is the habit of some Facebook users to post about what they are doing on the job, during work hours, that isn’t work-related. If you’re reading a novel or writing your term paper or planning the week’s menu, keep it to yourself. You might slide by for a while, but a pattern of posts about doing not working at work will eventually get you noticed by your employer and it won’t be for that A you got on the paper.
Be mindful of name-calling or using derogatory epithets, whether serious or joking. Comments made in jest don’t always come across as humorous in print and what’s said can’t be unsaid. Using insulting labels for others can make you look immature and inarticulate. Users are particularly vulnerable when they post comments that are dependent on tone of voice or expression to be understood. Emoticons are not always effective for conveying context. If you aren’t okay with your comment being taken literally, whether you mean it that way or not, rethink it.
One boundary that is crossed continually on Facebook is posting sensitive details about the private lives of friends and family.
Don’t. Just don’t. It’s not worth the drama.
Many users would never intentionally over-share and have no desire to cause hurt. Indeed, most of the over-sharing I see comes from a genuine desire to help, but wanting to help doesn’t necessarily mean we are helping.
Consider the young woman who is diagnosed with a critical illness and is struggling to come to terms with the news. She’s not ready to talk about it and has only shared the diagnosis with a couple of family members. One of those family members tells a cousin, who immediately goes online, posting the devastating news where it is seen by hundreds—no, thousands—of people.
The cousin means well, but because she didn’t clear it with the young woman first, she took the young woman’s power away from her. The distribution of her deeply personal information is her business.
In fact, if she never wants it made public, that is the young woman’s business. Not everything is up for public grabs but a lot of users have lost sight of that.
There’s the young man who, in a fit of desperation, posts details about his breakup with the woman he thought he’d marry. There’s the mother who posts about her child’s horrible divorce and how badly his boss treats him and his financial problems. There’s the father of the soccer player who posts a tirade about his child’s coach. Can you see where these examples are going? They are true examples, by the way. It doesn’t take any imagination to know that more drama ensued, and not only for the ones who made the original post.
The ripple effect of a single post is unstoppable.
Requests for prayers abound on Facebook. Because of its reach, many users are drawn to it as fast way to ask for support in trying times. If you post your own request about your personal situation, that’s your prerogative, but remember, if you are posting about another person’s situation, to clear it with them first, and to share no more than you are given the okay to share.
Thinking it’s okay doesn’t give any of us the right to share another person’s story without their permission.
Social media offers us wonderful ways to stay in touch with those we care about and to connect with groups that share common interests. There are art, counseling, and other inspiring pages that I have no intention of giving up, along with the on-going connections I have with former classmates and people in the community. The benefits are rich and real, and so is the potential harm.
Perhaps these summary guidelines can help us monitor our communication styles and minimize our vulnerability :
• For me, this first item is the Granddaddy of All Guidelines. Remember that, while you can delete a post or picture on your own page, what you delete may have already been caught on a screen capture, where it will live longer than a cat with nine lives. When that happens, you have lost any control of the image and it can go viral. That picture can be shared and re-posted and take on a life of its own. You may regret what you posted, you may apologize, you may post retractions, but that image is out of control and can go to an audience that won’t see your mea culpa. Scary? You bet. If you wouldn’t want what you’re about to post to be on CNN tonight, don’t hit that enter key.
• Be sure that what you post doesn’t compromise your safety or the safety of anyone else. No sharing of schedules or daily routines, no revealing vacation times, no letting others know your children’s schedules.
• Speaking of the children, consider all the possibilities before sharing names, birthdates, pictures, and activities. I know, I know, it’s hard because we love to share about these precious young’uns. It’s natural to want to share what we delight in, but there are unsavory folks who troll, looking for identifying information about children. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that a predator could easily assemble the entire makeup of a family, right down to the family pet and home address and family schedules, simply from online sharing.
• Be cautious sharing work-related information. If you do, keep it light and general. No complaining, no revealing sensitive or confidential information, no criticizing boss or co-workers.
• If you’re not okay with you post being taken literally, don’t post it. Someone will take it literally. Count on it.
• If there’s anyone in the whole world that you wouldn’t want to see your post, don’t post it. Your mom, your preacher, your boss, the head of the company, your ex-boyfriend, your worst enemy, your best friend?
• If it involves another person’s personal information, get their clearly stated permission before sharing, even if it’s the well-meaning request for prayers or support.
If we stay alert and monitor how we share our stories on social media, we can enjoy connecting with others. We might even save heartache and certainly save face.
Alcorn County resident Jaylene Whitehurst is an artist and Licensed Professional Counselor. She may be reached at 662-808-0902 or firstname.lastname@example.org. She contributes to Crossroads Magazine and the Daily Corinthian.