College students know how easy it is for something to go viral on the internet. Here's how to consider whether something is appropriate for social media.
Above, photo by Robert Kinlaw.
For many of you reading this, you’ve never known a world without the internet. The millennial generation has grown up on the internet. We know better than anyone how easy it is for something to go viral. Once it is on the internet, it is there forever.
So it should go without saying: Think about what you post. I’m not going to lecture you about putting up photos featuring underage drinking or illegal drug activities. At this point, you should know better. But I do want you to reconsider how you evaluate if something is appropriate for your social media.
Look, I’m not going to pretend like I don’t tweet or post things that I like to classify as “everyone is thinking it and I just said it.” Instead, my motto is this: If you can’t defend it, don’t post it. If you post something reckless, and a friend, family member or potential employer were to pull it up and ask you about it, could you defend it? By defend, I mean you could explain why you posted it without apologizing. If the answer is yes then great. But if it is no, maybe reconsider if it really needs to be put out for the world to see.
Before we get too carried away, let’s talk about the difference between reckless and offensive. If it specifically targets a person or group in a negative way, it is offensive. No amount of defending or justifying will make it better. This is especially true when posting something that is historically rooted in hate, like photos of you in blackface. Yes, that really still happens. Pro tip: That is never a good idea.
Once it is on the internet, it is not going away. As soon as you press send, someone somewhere is still going to screenshot it. Even if you get a lot of backlash and take it down within 10 or even 5 minutes, there is still a good chance it could go viral.
Your reputation is at stake. But there are also bigger ramifications. People can easily (scarily easily) find where you go to school or work. It is scary how easy it is to find someone’s school or place of work. It’s even easier for them to send an administrator or boss an email with that screenshot attached. Suddenly, what was supposed to be a joke to a few hundred of your followers has now been seen by thousands AND someone with power to affect your education or finances.
What may feel justified in the heat of the moment may not be as rewarding days, weeks, months or years from now. No amount of retweets, favorites, likes or shares are worth putting your reputation or future at risk.