Sharing your thoughts or photos for the world to see is now as easy as pushing a button, but even a seemingly harmless post may come back to haunt you
Facebook, the white and blue social media behemoth, has been part of our lives for exactly 17 years. Some of us still remember the days before it; meanwhile the current generation of young adults can’t imagine an era without it. Considering that the lifetime of social media networks tends to be limited before they fade into obscurity – Friendster, Vine, Myspace anyone? – this could be considered a great accomplishment.
Indeed, Facebook has cemented itself as the reigning king of social media networks (for the foreseeable future, anyway). It is widely used to connect with friends and family, watch videos and share memes. However, beyond the obvious use cases, it also functions like a time capsule of sorts; something people all too often overlook.
A key tenet is that “what happens on the Internet, stays on the internet” – quite possibly forever and for the whole world to see. If you don’t think about how you behave or what you share online, an error of judgement could come back and haunt you later in life. This may hold especially true for your future career prospects if you’ve partaken in some of the undesirable behavior that far too often happens on the internet, such as:
- Hurling insults
- Sharing offensive and insensitive content
- Following questionable pages and groups
Here’s what to do instead:
The internet is riddled with stories of people whose college admissions were rescinded and job offers withdrawn, when a social media post from the past or present was brought to light. This still holds true today especially if you’re applying for a lucrative position – the more prestigious the job placement and company, the more thorough the vetting process.
You should always think about what you post and how the content you’re sharing may age in the long term. A prank video that may seem funny at the time may turn out to be offensive or embarrassing in the long run, or perhaps your favorite sports team performed poorly and you used profanity-laced language to vent – this could reflect poorly on your temper. Alternatively, you may share a meme that may seem funny to you but that will insult others. A good rule of thumb would be not to share anything you wouldn’t be comfortable showing to your grandmother.
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HR specialists may perform a deep dive into the social media presence of prospective candidates to search for any red flags or questionable content that they might bring up during the interview process. It may be one of the aforementioned posts or they may see that you’re a fan or member of some dubious Facebook pages and groups that share offensive content. Any of these could lead to your job offer being pulled.
- Be mindful about how you comment
A lot of news and media websites allow you to comment under their articles by using your Facebook account, in lieu of having to sign up to each website every time you want to join a discussion. These discussions often tend to get heated, especially those under articles about hot-button or sensitive topics. And sometimes, even against our better judgement we allow ourselves to get roped into arguments that are entirely avoidable. Tempers run high, words are said, comments are misinterpreted, and you have the makings of a perfect storm.
However, we are all human and sometimes we react on the spur of the moment, and in ways we might regret later. But even in the midst of a heated debate, it is unacceptable to start cyberbullying your opponent – yes, it occurs with adults, too – by demeaning them, poking fun or even by flinging insults their way. The best-case scenario is to avoid commenting altogether. If you insist on commenting, then take a deep breath and be as polite as possible when you try to get your point across, and always think thoroughly before you press send.
- Privacy, privacy, privacy
This is more of a general piece of advice, which applies to all aspects of your digital life and not just the professional part. Since most of us have had a Facebook account for years, it would be appropriate to perform a privacy and security audit of your profile at the very least once a year. Start off by taking a look at what information is available to the public if they look for your profile, and then lock it down accordingly. There is no need to share anything but the bare minimum with strangers. You never know who might be watching, and oversharing could allow strangers to stalk you.
Moving on, you should then audit your posts: there is no need to have all your past posts from years past visible to everybody. This also helps prevent potential attackers from creating a comprehensive picture about you and your habits that could be exploited against you in the future. Speaking of potential threat actors, you should also do a deep dive into your friends list and remove anyone you don’t know or don’t remember adding. For a complete overview of how to protect your Facebook account and data you can refer to our detailed article about Facebook privacy settings.
It seems that Facebook won’t be going anywhere anytime soon, and it will remain a firmly ingrained part of our lives. And since it functions as a form of digital archive, it is prudent to reflect on the things that we’ve already shared and the posts and photos we’re planning to share. You might not know how your comments and posts will be perceived in the future, but it is always good to plan ahead, so that your digital past doesn’t come back to haunt you.