You may remember back in 2011 how a YouTube video created and posted by former UCLA undergraduate Alexandra Wallace went viral for all the wrong reasons. Wallace filmed herself making racist comments against Asians shortly after the natural and nuclear disasters in Japan.
The video went viral in a matter of days.
Wallace did not consider the repercussions of posting something so blatantly offensive on a public social media network. Because of the international outrage the video spurred, the student and her family were being harassed, even receiving death threats. No longer feeling welcome at UCLA, the student dropped out. Imagine her chances of being accepted to another college or hired for a job now — all this from a short video appearance on YouTube.
While this may be an extreme example, the consequences of a poor social media reputation can not only be humiliating for you, but also detrimental to your future. We’ve all heard the horror stories of interviewers showing potential students or employees a Facebook photo of them acting, let’s say, “irresponsibly.” Good luck explaining why the college should still consider you.
Don’t feel bad about your opinions or lifestyle choices (unless you should), just be extremely careful of how you advertise them. The internet is certainly one of the greatest resources of our age, but as fun as it can be to share your opinions or try to get some laughs on your video (Wallace thought her YouTube post would be “humorous”), be mindful of what you’re doing. Your social media reputation is at stake, and it could get in the way of your goals.
There are precautions you can take to preserve your social media reputation while still allowing you to express yourself:
1. Set privacy settings on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
You can make photos, posts, and videos visible only to people you specify. This is usually under the “Settings” or “Account” sections of these sites. However, don’t think that this is your key to be as bold as you like. There are rumors that some colleges and employers know how to hack these settings to see what you hide.
2. Use an alias.
When possible, give yourself some anonymity. Make a fake name for sites or exclude your last name so you don’t show up on Google searches (you can also change your privacy settings so that you cannot be found on Google). Have a variety of email addresses, like one for Facebook, one for formal correspondence and one for informal correspondence.
3. Find another outlet.
People have expressed themselves without the internet from the dawn of humankind to about 20 years ago. Keep a journal, talk to your friends, or make a photo album. Everything you do and think doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t) be broadcast to the world.
4. Use your common sense.
If you’re questioning whether a post is offensive or not, err on the side of caution. Maybe the post won’t offend your friends, but it could hurt someone else and reflect poorly on you later.
Your profiles, tweets and videos define you, and even if you are just joking around on them, the millions of other people with access to them won’t necessarily agree. Keep your social media reputation intact and positive, and it is less likely to get in the way of your future.