There is a new adage. Never put anything on the internet you don’t want other people to see. It’s good advice. That picture from your college days where you streaked across campus? Yes, I’m talking to you! Not a good idea to claim on Facebook. Or MySpace. Or whatever your favorite social networking site may be.
But what about those pictures you don’t mind sharing, but someone else takes as offensive? Or the comment you leave on someone else’s photo? Just how “careful” do you have to be on the web?
The answer is, extremely careful or extremely thick skinned.
Let’s say that you went to Europe on a dream vacation, one you’d been saving up for years to go on. It took you all over the old country, including Ireland, Italy and France. And, as long as we’re dreaming, let’s say while in Dublin you go to the Shangri-La of Stout, the Guinness Brewery. Now my attitudes on beer are fairly well known, so maybe I’m not unbiased. But let’s face it, when in Rome and all that.
Now that we are on this mythical trip, and we’ve gone to the wonderful world of the chewy beer, can you really imagine not getting a pint at the end of the tour? I mean really, they advertise their pubs based on the distance to this brewery. Could you honestly not hoist a pint, even if just to hoist it? Few of us could.
And isn’t that an absolute natural picture? Hey, look! I really did go to Ireland, and yes, I really did hoist a pint of that dark creamy goodness! See!
But don’t put that on your Facebook. Because your employer may find it and use it against you. And that’s EXACTLY what happened to Ashley Payne.
Ashley Payne taught in Barrow County, Ga until this past August, when the principal called her into the office to discuss the photos. Ashley went to Ireland, France and Italy. While there, she had a few pictures taken of her with a beer at Guinness, a glass of wine in Italy and France. She was told she should resign and that they would be bringing her up for suspension and possible firing. She resigned. Now she’s suing to get her job back.
There are a lot of legal aspects to this, including her mistaken resignation. But the point remains, she should never have been called into the principal’s office to begin with. She didn’t have a picture taken with students. She wasn’t on a school trip and she wasn’t really doing anything untoward. Her Facebook page is private and the pictures were only shared with people she approved. But one of those people violated her trust and shared it with the principal, and the only reason to do that was to get her in trouble.
She even went on the trip with other teachers, some of whom had pictures on public pages doing the same thing. But they didn’t get called into the principal’s office.
This brings up an interesting point to me. I’m pretty open on Facebook and Twitter. And I’m extremely open here in this blog. My family is always getting on to me about how open I am, and a cute event happened the other night and my son told me “You better not blog this” which is killing me. First that a six year old knows what a blog is, and second… it really was cute. But I’ll respect his wish.
I’m also involved in a few volunteer activities, and a job hunt, that the people I volunteer with and my potential employers may be looking either here or on my Facebook account. In fact, the second I post this, Twitter will broadcast that the post has been made, and Facebook will too.
Some of my friends are ministers or CEO’s or managers. I’ve had those types of friends comment to me personally about my posts or status messages. I asked them why they don’t leave me a comment online, and the response is the same. Because they are afraid that an employee or church member will read their comment, take it out of context and use it against them.
So the Facebook Police are watching you. But they aren’t working for Facebook. Instead, they are your friends and neighbors, co-workers and employers and any one of them may try and use something you’ve written against you in the future. It’s a chilling thought, that someone would take an innocent comment between friends and use it to hurt you. In effect, it is worse than government censorship. How do you complain that “Susan” read something you really did write, but is using it totally out of context to hurt you?
There are only two reasons I can think of that someone would do this. Either they really are taking it out of context, because perhaps they are catching a conversation between two people who have a history and are talking in “friend code” to each other, and they are offended. The other is that they know they are taking it out of context and are really trying to hurt you.
The later is just despicable. If you’re really out to hurt someone, looking for dirt to bring up for the express purpose of hurting another, then you are among the lowest life forms I can think of. And it’s one thing if you take something I write or post for public consumption and try and twist it into something hurtful. I mean, I put it out there for everyone to read, and if I offend you then there is the chance that I intended to offend you. So we should be able to dialog about it and see where we agree and disagree. But to use it to hurt me? Come on and grow up.
The other, where it wasn’t really a public post but a discussion between friends, is worse. Friends do talk in code, and there may be a level or meaning you don’t understand about what is being said. Then, not only are you taking it out of context, but you are misunderstanding too.
In either case, the intentional goal of hurting someone is low. It’s one thing to snark, but another thing altogether to go after someone and hurt them. If you disagree, have the guts to stand up and say so. Don’t sneak around collecting posts and messages just to “build a case” and then take it to someone else. Bring it up to ME and let’s work it out.
I know the Facebook police are out there. I know that there are people reading my posts and my status messages just hoping I or one of my friends will say something they can use against me. I know people are reading my posts and liking them, but refusing to comment because of those people. And I know I say and post things just to get a rise out of people. It’s who I am.
So if you don’t like what I said, tell me or please shut up. And don’t use my conversations with my friends to hurt them. Because I will call you out on it. I wish this meant that more people would comment, but I’m not that naive. I know that other people are less likely to take the hassle of standing up for something as insignificant as social media. But hey, right now I have nothing better to be doing.
So game on! I’ve decided I’m not going to self censor at a higher level online than what I would offline. If I’m not willing to say it to your face, I’m not going to post about it here. But I’m not going to hold my online writing to a higher standard than my personal life. At least, not on a personal blog. I’ve got a journalistic blog as well, and over there I will hold myself to journalist levels of writing (which, btw, is pretty freaking low right now). But I’m not going to censor myself because someone out there is out to get me. One, because I don’t want to give in to that paranoia. And two, cause hey! It’ll make for some fun blog posts.