BY MELISSA BURNS
In the past, what one did in college – including irresponsible, dubious and just plain idiotic things – mostly became memory fodder. Something particularly stupid could have become local campus lore, but the rest of the world was none the wiser. After graduating, you were able just to turn a blank page and get on with your life.
Today, however, social media opens up a whole new world of possibilities to behave irresponsibly and do stupid things – and, unlike before, it is all open to the entire world to see and remains publicly available years after posting. A silly Facebook post can seriously harm both your studies and your future career. Here we’ve gathered some of the worst things you should avoid doing on social media.
1. Posting objectionable photos
A good rule of a thumb is to ask yourself this before posting any photo online: “Do I want my parents, my grandparents, my teachers, my future employers, my pastor, my future children and all the people I know to see it?” Because chances are, they will, and at the worst possible moment. Some photos (e.g., of illegal activities) can cause you harm right now, resulting in expulsion and even criminal charges. Others may float up five years from now when you are applying for a job. Social media profile checks were a relative novelty a few years ago, but today they are much more mainstream. Whatever you post becomes an almost unerasable online footprint – even if you delete some of the photos later, somebody could have already downloaded them.
2. Drunk posting
A post that looks and feels like a good idea after a tenth beer can (and probably will) look quite different the next day. If you know yourself doing this from time to time, either keep away from social media when trashed or get into a habit of taking an early night at parties. Everything you can write about when drunk you can still cover after a good night’s sleep, only without all the awkwardness it may cause.
3. Trash talking your professors (elected officials, other colleges)
Firstly, it is never a good idea to alienate somebody who may influence your grades while you are still in college. Secondly, it is an even worse idea to post negative comments about people who can help you find a job in future. Professors usually have professional connections in the industry they teach about and can give you valuable job searching advice. You may feel annoyed at a particular professor right now and relieving your anger with a testy comment may be cathartic, but it isn’t worth ruining your prospects.
4. Relying on privacy settings
It is best to take for granted that anything you post online is likely to be seen by the least suitable person at the least appropriate moment, no matter how much security and privacy boxes you’ve ticked. Privacy settings get updated without you noticing, information leaks happen even with the seemingly most secure networks, and you may just forget what else you’ve posted under this or that tag when giving somebody access to it.
5. Talking on religious or political topics
In an ideal world, one’s religious, political or other beliefs shouldn’t influence whether you get hired or not. We don’t live in such a world, and by making your opinion on controversial issues publicly known you alienate large shares of your potential employers.
All these tips make handling social media look like walking through a minefield, and there is something in this analogy. However, if you use your common sense, you won’t have any problem telling what is appropriate on SM and what isn’t.
Melissa Burns graduated from the faculty of Journalism of Iowa State University. Nowadays she is an entrepreneur and independent journalist. Follow her @melissaaburns or contact at firstname.lastname@example.org