Ronson’s NY Times article over Justine Sacco’s tweets and the social media backlash she received draws attention to a recurring problem in the business world. The invention of Web 2.0 (that’s things like twitter, facebook etc) has irrevocably blurred the line between our work and private lives, having the unfortunate side effect of making us twenty four seven representatives of our companies. There are so many interesting ethical questions raised by this, about the erosion of the work/home divide and about the ways that “call out culture” on social media operates, but a quick blog post isn’t the place for discussing all of that. What I am going to do here is give three basic tips for living online in a way that won’t wreck your career or bring your business into disrepute.
- The first isn’t even a piece of technical advice and is probably something your parents told you on a regular basis: think before you speak. This sounds obvious but I mean seriously put it into practise. Literally everything you say anywhere on the internet, no matter the security protocols you put in place, has the capacity to be leaked somewhere with your name right across it. Moreover, if this happens and what you did say was offensive, intentionally or not, your new audience of strangers won’t give you the benefit of the doubt or shrug it off because they knew what you really meant. For many of these people having to deal with racist, sexist and other micro-aggressions every day from trolls or real life bigots your comment, which may have seemed innocent enough to you, will be the final straw. So every time you engage online stop and think through what you’re saying and how you’ve phrased it before you publish it.
- You need to enable the strongest privacy settings on all of your accounts. While this won’t protect you perfectly – an offended person on your contacts list can still download or screen cap anything they can see – it will enable you to do things like put up holiday snaps or selfies taken on a night out in relative safety from being seen by potential clients and other people you only want to perceive you in a professional light. Additionally, don’t post pictures that would ruin your career if they got out at all, not even under the highest security setting. There’s always the possibility that your account will be hacked or someone will leak them and you will not be able to get them back if that happens. Once something is on the internet its always on the internet.
- Never do anything that can be considered controversial with an account that can be traced back to your real identity. If you want to engage in online activism, start political arguments in news sites comments sections or any other activity that while not illegal still has the potential to make a lot of people angry then you absolutely do not want them to be able to work out who you are in real life. This isn’t by any means fool proof, doxing can happen and is always a risk when engaging in this sort of activity on the internet, but there are steps you can take to decrease the likelihood of being identified and accused of bringing your workplace into disrepute. Most people already know not to use their full name for things like this but its astonishing the number of people who think they can remain relatively anonymous while posting pictures of themselves to sites where they use a pseudonym. If you’re going to have an account for this purpose you can’t post pictures of yourself or which you’ve posted elsewhere under your actual name or that would otherwise reveal your identity (if you’ve shown all your coworkers pictures of your dog then don’t put pictures of him up on your work rants blog), stories that could reveal your location or connect people with your real identity (i.e. you can’t write a blog post about a funny incident at your amateur dramatic society without risking them finding it, reading it and then working out who you are) or any variation of your name or a nickname you use in real life.
This isn’t a complete guide obviously, but I hope some of you find it useful and take a moment to think carefully about the way you use social media and how it can affect other areas of your life.