Mike Carlton has had a tough week. The journalist resigned from the Sydney Morning Herald after using inappropriate language to respond to readers who took offense to his article about the conflict in Gaza. Using social media is like eating steak in a room full of hungry tigers.
Bad things can happen. And you may need to leave your job as a result. The line between personal and professional seems to be so blurred now that it's jolly tempting to delete my Facebook profile and Twitter account lest a comment I make to my 'friends' ends up on the table in my annual review.
Irrespective of your point of view regarding Mr Carlton’s exit from the SMH, the beast of social media has played a major part. Social media allows society to remove all the rules that govern our behaviour. It's Lord of the Flies – based in a cloud.
Mr Carlton's resignation was a consequence of his retaliation to the social media commentary directed at him by complete strangers through this cloud.
The long term ramifications of washing your dirty laundry in public can be terrible for your career. You might think that your comment/photo/video is a moment in time, but, while what happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas, what happens on the Internet stays everywhere. And it turns up when you least expect it. Clearly, not having a social media presence is the safest stance – but this is obviously ridiculous. So if we want to use social media, we have to be smart about it: have a private Facebook account, think about your Twitter account name, and be careful what you post. Be mindful of which photos of you are out there and who is sharing them. And that is where I get a bit sad about it all, really.
If you want to guarantee that you don't have to end up looking for a new job, you have to think about EVERYTHING you do and say on social media. An opinion shared between friends on social media can end up as public fodder. Your vent on a horrible day at work could end up on your boss' desk in the morning.
And the retaliatory 'Go away!' you tweeted in response to a nasty comment on Twitter can lead you straight to Centrelink.
The Internet is the poster child for free speech and yet is the epitome of big brother. There are companies that employ specialists who do nothing but mine social media to find out as much as they can about you before they offer you a job. Potential employers (and recruiters) look for you on social media as part of their recruitment process, and they make judgements about you based on what they find.
They look at what you say and the language you use to say it.
They might look at what you like. They look at your photos and the photos you are tagged in. Never think of your Facebook/Instagram/ Tumblr/Twitter account as being your private space where you can vent at will, where you can laugh with friends, and where you can just let it all hang out. Think of your social media account as Christmas dinner at your grandmother’s house; you get to catch up with some of your favourite people in the world, but if you go a bit mad and end up drunk or passed out under the lounge, everyone is going to bring it up for the next 25 years. I suppose, in summary, I find myself sounding just like my nana, and perhaps it's a wise mantra to use in social media: 'If you can’t find something nice to say, say nothing at all.' (Which is much better than her other favourite saying, 'Never leave the house without lipstick, a hanky and clean undies.')