The Essential Six-Point Checklist Before You Post Something On Social Media And Ruin Your Entire Life

Find a social surrogate friend -- and keep your job.
Publish date:
December 3, 2014
twitter, social media, facebook, Cautionary Tale

Not only did Elizabeth Lauten have to resign her post this week, but the ex-GOP aide has also been newly bestowed with one of my favorite concern troll-y titles of all time.

She has become a "cautionary tale."

If you're anything like me, you might feel a little secretly superior when it comes to these cautionary tales.

I mean, something like this could never happen to you. You would never do an update so reckless on your social media. You would never lose your job.

Except you might. And I might. We all might. So very easily.

When I look on all the dumb status updates I've written over the years I'm actually pretty pleasantly surprised I haven't seen my name right there next to "cautionary tale" up on some media gossip blog or beside one of my other favorite phrases: "...the tweet, which was later deleted."

Having seen these stories again and again, I'm trying to help people be whatever the opposite of a cautionary tale is. (A throw-caution-to-the-wind tale?)

With that in mind, I've come up with a handy six-point checklist in order to prevent total life ruination from some ill-considered status update. You ready?

1. If there's any question that your place of employment might be scrutinizing your views, don't ever mention your place of employment on social. Just don't.

Oh, and that whole "tweets and retweets don't represent the views of my employer" line that's in every other bio you see online? Doesn't make a difference. Want a few case studies of employers being pissed at their name being mentioned? Easy. There's the flight crew. The waitress. And the team mascot. All of them: terminated. Tons more out there. Have fun Googling.

2. Need to get something off your chest? Do it! With one small caveat.

Write up the most brutally aggressive (or passive aggressive if you want to go the subtweet route) status of all time that your boss will definitely know is about him ("WORST BOSS EVER CAN'T BELIEVE THIS IDIOT JERKBOT TOOLFACE EVER GETS LAID I MEANNN #THESTRUGGLEISREAL") and then -- don't send it. I know the second part is hard. That's why you need a key partner in crime: Your social media surrogate. This person will save your life. She will know that every once in a while you'll just need to vent, and it's coming through, ready or not. Whether she responds asap or in a few hours, those texts are coming through, fast and furious. (Obviously, with the initial disclaimer "want to send this to my boss so sending to you instead.")

It's such a beautiful solution because then you get to expunge all the wickedness out of you (which is very freeing) but you also don't end up, you know, ruining your entire life.

3. When you're uploading a photo, ask yourself: How would I like to have this used against me by my worst enemy (or even, the most critical prude who feels entitled to have judgements about my job)?

There's been a picture going around lately of Lauten (the GOP staffer who resigned this week) comparing a picture of her drinking and the Obama girls giving her the side eye. Which means not only is her Facebook downfall going to be her first Google search result, so will this picture. Want to know how insane social media scrutiny can get? One Georgia teacher was actually forced to resign simply for holding a a beer and a glass of wine and then posting a picture of herself doing so on Facebook.

4. Context doesn't matter on social media. Think of it this way: Could what you're writing be taken out of context?

Context is so critical in everything. Just Google "Daily Show" with the word "edit," and you'll see what I mean. You'll even find one article on Bloomberg titled simply, "Don't Ever Appear On 'The Daily Show.'" This is because every interview on the show is stripped of context in order to fit the show's comedic premise. I have no problem with this, but many people don't realize the game behind the game. An interview subject might make a joke or try to appear charming but that footage is then used, completely without context, to make the person look like a fool, simply because the goal is to be funny.

This same principle applies to anything you write on social media. It doesn't matter if you're being sarcastic or all of your friends get the joke, the context for others will be stripped. Do your friends think it's funny when you, say, compare yourself to an "expensive paperweight"? Well someone who doesn't know you doesn't, or even more likely, they're just a humorless miserable wretch to begin with -- and all they see is a questionable post they can use as ammunition to get you sacked.

5. Remember that you can go from nobody to an Internet legend in a matter of seconds. Consider the woman who will always be branded as "Cisco Fatty." Ask yourself: Does what you're writing feel at all like a secret or something you wouldn't want more than 10 people to see?

In 2009, there was a University of California student who was offered a gig with Cisco and then tweeted, "Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work."

Well, not too long after the tweet was discovered (most companies monitor any kind of mention on social media), the offer was rescinded. The case is fairly famous and is used as a standard for social media best practices. I know, I know, it would feel so good to be REAL about life on social media, but again, turn instead to your friend who is your designated social media surrogate. Get it out of you. But realize we do not live in a world -- at least if you are playing the corporate game -- where this will ever be considered acceptable.

6. The world isn't always just. Tweet like it, too. Do you foresee repercussions, fair or not, from stirring up controversy in your social media presence?

One woman used Twitter to combat a specific instance of sexism at an industry conference. She was congratulated for speaking out -- and then she was fired. Was the dismissal sexist? Absolutely. Could the company get away with it? Absolutely.

This is an area I'm fascinated with and I could probably give about 100 more examples, including the juror who solicited help on a case from her Facebook friends, the woman who lost her disability benefits for depression after showing herself happy online and the employee who called in sick to work only to have her status updates watched online -- and then fired.

So I'm hoping you will please tell me: Do you have any of your own suggestions, or a particularly good story of social gone wrong? Please tell me it involves thinking you are using a personal account only to be tweeting from the Chrysler account and then sending out the following status to several thousand followers: "I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to fucking drive." Because, yeah, that happened.


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