Social media was in the news recently when Harvard revoked admission offers to at least 10 of their students for “obscene Facebook messages” which were deemed both racist and sexually offensive. The details can be found in the link here.
The norms around the use of social media have yet to be clearly defined, yet over recent years the explosion in the use of these platforms has continued to stretch how people use their devices and how and to whom they communicate. In addition, there have been recent pushes by the likes of Facebook and other providers to seek out and eliminate alternative or fake news. But I digress.
For the most part we assume that what we write and to whom we communicate on a daily basis is part of our freedom of speech. The texts we send, the pictures or articles we post, we believe are within our rights. We also assume that those posts are protected by our security settings. We assume too that when we belong to a group, moderated or not, the sharing of ideas, beliefs etc… is contained within that group.
Harvard’s reaction clearly shows that regardless of what people may think about the privacy and security of social media, even within a moderated group, people are watching and reading. Most schools have an Honor Code.
It is important to consider, on a personal level, what is your need for social media. Why do you have it and what do you really want people to see? A colleague states the following: “Treat your social media accounts as though they are billboards on the interstate. Don’t post anything you don’t want the world to see. Moreover, be conscious of language, ideas or images that others might be using in conversation with you as they can be perceived of a reflection of you and your values” (Peter Van Buskirk). In other words, don’t just assume that people can see what you have posted, but trust that they will.
But it is not just Harvard or schools that are interested in what you post. Future employers are also investigating potential employees. Why? Well, it all comes down to values and morals. Like schools, companies have a culture and image they wish the public to see. As a member of a school or company you are a member of that community and also a representative of that school or company. That organization expects that by extending an invitation to join them that you believe in the ethos of that organization. It is not just about a degree or a paycheck.
We have all, at times, become a bit lax about the material or messages that we send. So some words of caution:
1. Trust that someone unintended will be looking, from school admission representatives to Human Resource managers.
2. Don’t post pictures of yourself doing anything illegal or otherwise illicit, such as underage drinking. While you may consider these behaviors okay, others may not.
3. Check to see what friends may be posting to your accounts and discard anything that may be deemed inappropriate.
4. Be aware of what is considered “online Bullying.”
5. While not the same, but certainly something to be aware of, through sites like Zillow and LinkedIn, Financial Aid officers at universities can now access financial documentation that may affect Financial Aid awards.
6. If you wrote it, posted it, it’s yours! Even if it is meant in jest!
Technology today has created a sense of separation from a larger social context. But the reality is messages travel faster and wider than ever before. Just consider the idea of going viral. No doubt that intent of the person posting was to their group of friends. But friends have friends who have friends and so on. The Six Degrees of Separation from Kevin Bacon are truer today than ever. Technology has made the world a much smaller place and definitely much more connected than Six Degrees.
Here are some other sites to visit to find out more about the Don’ts of Social Media: