Social Media is Never Personal. You Can Bet Your Reputation On It!

The New York Times recently released updated social media guidelines for its newsroom personnel. These guidelines contain important information and should be required reading for all students and professionals. Here are a few key points.

"While you may think that your Facebook page, Twitter feed, Instagram, Snapchat or other social media account are private zones, separate from your role at The Times, in fact everything we post or "like" online is to some degree public."

Our personal actions have always reflected upon our families, our schools, our employers, our organizations, and our community. Social media magnifies the impact of these actions both positively and negatively. Our posts can potentially reach millions of people in just a few moments and the line between personal thoughts and professional impact is always blurred.  

Hayley Geftman-Gold was summarily fired on October 2nd after posting questionable Facebook commentary on the Las Vegas shooting. Geftman-Gold’s remarks on Facebook somehow got captured in a screenshot and started making the rounds on Twitter. Geftman-Gold had identified herself on her LinkedIn profile as a “vice president and senior counsel for strategic transactions at CBS Corporation.”  CBS summarily fired Geftman-Gold to prevent her remarks from being attributed to CBS. 

With billions of people actively engaging on social media there is no longer a distinction between personal and professional posts. "Personal" social media platforms like Facebook aren’t personal, especially when you self-identify with a specific school or employer.

"Avoid joining private and "secret" groups on Facebook and other platforms."

No matter where we decide to post, that post is public, contains our digital DNA, and is discoverable by anyone in the world with an interest in finding it. Just ask the 10 students whose acceptances were rescinded by Harvard University.

These students learned a hard lesson of how aliases and private groups will not protect your identity on social media. The concepts of anonymity, privacy, and disappearance never apply to social media posts. Whatever you post and wherever you post it, your post is public, permanent and discoverable.

Another student recently had her college acceptance rescinded by the University of Rochester because she had lied on her college application. The lie was discovered after the student announced her decision to attend the university on Facebook. A counselor at her high school noticed her Facebook post and could not recall sending an admissions package to the University of Rochester. After the counselor called the university, the university discovered the student had lied about being home schooled and rescinded its acceptance.

"If someone were to look at your entire social media feed, including links and retweets, would they have doubts about your ability to cover news events in a fair and impartial way?"

You are what you tweet and the world is watching. Colleges and employers routinely check applicant social media feeds to learn more about that person. Our social media feeds help tell our story to people who have never met us in real life but are determining whether we would be a good fit as a student, employee, vendor or contractor. 

Embrace the transparency of social media by moving beyond your circle of friends and followers. The potential audience of our social media posts is the world and, once we realize we are never anonymous on social media, we can start engaging in a thoughtful and moderate way. There is tremendous benefit in posting content that speaks to this larger audience as the extent to which you establish a strong and compelling online presence is having an impact on who is getting into college, receiving a coveted scholarship, and landing the job.

Alan Katzman