From the Harvard students that had their acceptances revoked for posting mean memes on Facebook, to adults (especially educated ones) that insult a First Lady online and end up getting fired, no one today seems immune from making a cyber-blunder that could wreck their future prospects.
As we see a rise in colleges and employers scrutinizing an applicant's online presence and their social media behavior, it's imperative that both parents and teens make wise digital decisions. In 2017, Kaplan Test Prep reported that 35 percent of admissions officers it surveyed admitted to viewing college applicants’ social media postings, while 42 percent said they had eliminated an applicant due to negative content and behavior.
Similarly, a 2017 CareerBuilders survey revealed that 70 percent of businesses are now using social media to screen potential candidates prior to an interview, and 54 percent were eliminated ahead of time based on what was revealed about them online.
Colleges and employers view their applicants as an extension of their brand. Both online and offline, your social media behavior matters. As we saw with college students who attended the recent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville and were subsequently identified and shamed out of their schools, your offline behavior can now trigger an online shaming that bleeds back into your daily life with real world repercussions.
Digital Wisdom is Digital Survival
The internet gets a bad rap sometimes, but when used wisely, it's one of the greatest tools we have. Whether it has helped you make new friends, find a job, connect with long-lost relatives, or even meet your soul mate, never doubt that the internet can be a phenomenal resource.
And yet beware: it also is laden with pitfalls.
In Shame Nation: The Global Epidemic of Online Hate, we discuss how to prevent a digital disaster. There are some basic guidelines that can help prevent you from becoming a target of online shaming, gleaned from the hindsight of those who sadly made those mistakes.
The Art of Commenting
Commenting online is an opportunity for you (both parents and teens) to impress readers and showcase who you are. It's important to remember that this is your digital footprint -- what not only your college recruiter may read, but also a potential employer, or maybe even your future wife or husband. It's the same with likes. When you are quick to like images and comments, it's equal to endorsing them. Be aware of what you’re putting your name to.
We have to think of commenting as a privilege, maybe even an opportunity. This is your time to shine, share your opinion, and let people get to know you. Humanize yourself. If you aren't in agreement with someone, never be combative, be constructive. It's your wisdom that will elevate you above the negativity and people will listen rather than argue.
Many platforms today have actually removed the comments section because people couldn't control their cruelty towards others. If you have a chance to be part of a conversation you are passionate about, go for it!
Beware of the Overshare
One of the biggest blunders that people of all ages make that can lead to online shaming is oversharing. In a 2015 PEW Survey, teens actually said that 88 percent of people shared too much about themselves online.
Since parents are newer to social media, they seem to be taking more risks especially with oversharing family pictures and other personal events that we all used to keep private (or at least to our closest friends and family). One teen girl from Austria actually sued her own parents for all those embarrassing childhood photographs they posted on Facebook, from shots of her getting her diaper changed to potty training. “They knew no shame and no limit,” the girl lamented.
Pause. Reconsider what you are about to post or send into cyberspace.
- Is it an embarrassing photo?
- Are you using profanity?
- Are you posting a photo of someone without his or her permission?
- Are you disclosing personal information (address, phone number, etc.)?
- How would your friend/employer/potential client react to this post?
- How would you feel if this post were made about you?
Have You De-Cluttered Your Friends Lately?
You can have one person that lifts your private post, shares it, and off it goes. How many times have you read about those who have lost their job because of a Facebook post they thought was private? One case we cover was the infamous Lindsey Stone, whose joking photo went viral because of her friend’s lax privacy settings on her Facebook account.
Privacy settings have a way of changing without notice, yet nothing replaces common sense. Be proactive in maintaining Facebook lists to share with your closest friends and family for your personal pictures and comments, and don't forget to remove those that you have no idea how they ended up in your network. Digital wisdom means understanding that it's quality over quantity.
So how will you start being a wiser digital leader? Sharing more wisely? De-cluttering your friends list? Maybe writing impressive comments? It doesn't matter how old you are, when it comes to social media, wisdom matters. We all must consider our actions - both online and off - because with today's virtual world, one click and your life can be changed forever.