The Big Problem with Social Media

Dear Dumplin,

As part of my Corporate Shuffle series, I asked some followers on Instagram to provide topics on things they’d like me to cover.  Toscha over at Black Swan Beauty asked me to cover social media and how it impacts your career.  I was brain storming about what I wanted to say and then a scandal broke out atThe Lawrenceville School that made me change what I was going to write.

Apparently, Ms. Maya Peterson, the first Black Student Body President, was asked to resign from her position after posting pictures on social media that some interpreted as making fun of her white male classmates.  In the picture, she is holding a hockey stick, wearing LL Bean duck boots, and wearing a Yale sweatshirt.  Ms. Peterson explained (here) that she posted the picture after people complained about another picture where she stood with some Black classmates raising the Black Power fist.

I personally don’t find the picture offensive, and am sure Ms. Peterson has had to deal with much more offensive statements and situations at such a prestigious school.  I spoke a little about my private school experience in my post “What Do I Teach You About Race” and found myself relating with Maya Peterson’s struggle.  But that’s not really my issue.

My issue is this: The pictures were posted on her social media accounts.  How long will it be before people forget them?  Every time someone Google’s her, this situation will follow her.  And let me be clear, I don’t blame Ms. Peterson.  No one is error proof and especially not teenagers.  The Lawrenceville School is a boarding school specializing in college prep in grades 9 through 12.  It is essentially for high school kids.  High School is all about making mistakes and learning from them!  You try different classes, sports, and activities in the hopes that you will find something you are good at and that can point you towards a successful career.  I doubt the world will ever forget this and it will haunt Ms. Peterson for some time.

  • Will she still get the college recommendations she planned on getting?

  • Will she still get accepted to the same colleges?

  • Will she still get the same job offers?

  • Will she still attract the same mentors?

And here lies my main problem with social media. We all make mistakes.  Let me say that again. WE ALL MAKE MISTAKES.  Social media takes the joy of learning from one’s mistakes out of childhood and in general.  There is no margin for error on social media.  I remember reading a story about a young lady that committed suicide because she sent someone she thought she could trust a topless photo.  This (insert expletive here) person not only posted the photo everywhere and sent it to everyone at her school, but stalked her.  Her family moved out of town so that she could start fresh and this (insert expletive here) person found her, and sent the picture to everyone at her new school.  She felt ashamed and embarassed for the stress she caused her family and killed herself.  She was a kid.  And I believe social media robbed her of the chance to be a kid who made a mistake.   Social media did not allow her to move on.

So my point is this, in professional circumstances, and in life, one must be careful of everything you post online.  NOTHING GOES AWAY even if you think you’ve deleted it.  FaceBook keeps your data even after you’ve deleted your account.  Go ahead.  Try to activitate an account that’s been closed for some time.  All the data is still there.  Emails never go away.  They can be recovered after you think you’ve deleted them.  Technology never forgets.  If Ms. Peterson decides to run for public office twenty years from now, guess what’s going to be one of the first questions she is asked?  You guessed it!  “What happened at The Lawrenceville School?”  As you build your career, remember this, it will always come back to you.  So before you post anything, ask yourself.  Can my parents see this?  Can my boss see this?  Would I want a future employer seeing this?  If the answer is no, don’t do it.  Remember, there is really no such thing as privacy on social media.  Don’t live in fear but make smart choices.  And should you make a mistake, it’s ok.  We all do.



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