We live in the age of social media. We use it to talk, share, explore, learn, date, and create. Many of us document our lives through our Instagram profiles and Twitter feeds. This can be fun and positive...but it also can be dangerous.
A good amount of students forget that what we post online is now out there for the world to see. We hear internet safety being talked about; how many of us actually take it seriously, though?
A huge issue is how far things can spread online and how long they can stay online. Not too long ago, Camilla Cabello went under fire for racist Tumblr posts she had shared and posted online back when she was fifteen (1). The singer has since apologized for the posts, but that does not erase her actions. The knowledge of her resurfaced comments will remain out there. People question her sincerity. I already know several people who have decided to stop listening to her music entirely due to them. I can’t say whether she thinks the same way now or not, but it’s a hit to her career and image.
In a less discriminatory situation, Miley Cyrus was originally going to voice the lead character of Mavis in the animated Hotel Transylvania film series. This never came to be, since Cyrus was fired after photos were posted of herself with a cake shaped like a penis online (2). What she posted was not hateful, or something that would cause the majority to state that she was a bad human being. It did, however, go against the wholesome family image that was desired for the cast members of a children’s film.
Both of those examples are of celebrities, though. Perhaps you are making the assumption that these things only come back to haunt famous people. After all, celebrities get very little privacy to begin with in their lives.
This does not just apply to those with fame though. A big example of an everyday person’s life falling apart after a poor choice was made online is that of Justine Sacco. Sacco decided to post this tweet in December of 2013:
“Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”
Justine Sacco was not a celebrity. She was just a woman working in public relations. Her twitter had only 170 followers. The tweet was posted shortly before her eleven-hour flight. This was not something that most people would expect to get a lot of attention.
A twitter follower of Sacco had been upset by the tweet though, and sent it along to a journalist, who then shared it on their page. By the time that Sacco’s flight landed, her “quick joke” had spread online. People had been sharing the journalist’s tweet about Sacco all over twitter. The New York Times, Washington Post, and Buzzfeed, among many others, had posted articles that mentioned her tweet. Organizations used the tweet to draw attention to fundraisers helping AIDS patients. People had even discovered what flight she was on, and #hasjustinelandedyet became the worldwide #1 trending hashtag on twitter. Justine Sacco was soon fired from her job and faced worldwide scrutiny over a tweet she had made to her mere 170 followers (3).
Things online can always come back to haunt you. Even if you have a private profile, it only takes one follower deciding to screenshot your post for it to spread. When you keep in mind things like hackers as well (who have led to many nude photos being leaked), you realize that nothing shared online is really ever private.
Next time, before posting that photo of yourself drunk at a party, flashing the middle finger to the camera, or typing out something that sides on the offensive side of “humor”... Ask yourself if you’d be fine with anyone in the world seeing it. If you really wouldn’t want your grandmother or potential boss seeing the post, then you probably shouldn’t be posting it to begin with.