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What Happens in Social Media Stays in Social Media

Eight tips on how to keep your online past from taking a bite out of your real-life future

By Melissa Stefanec

There was a time when you could do or say something insensitive, questionable or downright stupid without it haunting you for years to come.

It was a time when your poor choices, wordings and decisions weren’t digitally documented for your progeny to use against you 20 years from now.

It was a time when misinformed rants, nights of ill decisions and side-steps in morality lived on only in the memories of a few witnesses.

That revered time is over. In the age of internet and social media, almost nothing is private, and almost everything lives in infamy.

There has never been a better time to be mindful of your digital trail. There are times when documenting the “here and now” can affect your future and best-laid plans.

Many social media sites have privacy settings to keep the general public from scrutinizing your every online move. However, some sites are available to everyone, and you should be especially prudent about what you post to them.

Even if you have privacy settings on your social media accounts, you never know which one of your friends or followers knows someone important (and when or how that important person might play into your life). Posting something that seems foolish or harmless now can make or break you down the road.

To tidy up your digital trail, consider refraining for the following actions:

1. Badmouthing your current employer
If you are courting a prospective employer, it’s probably safe to assume that his or her turnoffs include employees that badmouth their company. One errant hashtag and your future employer can locate the time you bashed your college employer on a public forum. No one wants to hire an angry and jaded worker, so keep rants about your employer off the Internet.

2. Badmouthing your current job
Please see above. In addition, don’t rant via an online forum that you are too good for a job or about how much you hate your current job responsibilities. Prospective employers don’t want to become part of this pattern.

3. Airing tiffs with friends, partners or family
If you have to vent about relationship woes, don’t do it online. This is just plain tacky. Telling your side of the story to people who like you and support you doesn’t make you right. Doing so just shines on a light on your need for validation from a biased crowd. Leave your private relationships private.

4. Posting inebriated pics
Taking pictures when you are a little tipsy is likely a pastime as old as the camera itself. However, do not post these pics online. Absolutely nothing can be gained from posting pictures of yourself or your friends when you are half in the bag. Your family doesn’t want to see this. Your future employers don’t want to see this. In a few days, you probably won’t want to see this. If you absolutely must post such pics, post them of yourself and leave the tagging out.

5. Ranting about how much you hate ____
Do you hate a certain political party? A certain restaurant? A certain organization? A person? That’s great. We all have a shortlist for these sorts of things. Keep that shortlist somewhere it can’t be read by others. Projecting hate is bad no matter where you do it. Projecting it into the abyss that is the internet is self-involved and potentially dangerous.

6. Posting unsavory status updates
If you find yourself hesitating or second-guessing posting something due to its content, listen to that little voice of reason. Wait a little while, and see if you still want to post it later. Not every thought or action is suitable for the internet and infamy, so practice self-censoring whenever you can.

7. Posting the 102nd selfie
Selfies are fun and a great way to get attention, right? Yes and no. The occasional selfie can be cute and attractive, but post too many and you risk the chance of seeming shallow or self involved. Keep the selfies to a minimum. Your friends, potential partners, family and prospective employers all thank you.

8. Boasting questionable affiliations
In college, some affiliations seem like a really great idea. You look down the road and don’t care how that affiliation will be judged, because, right now, you are proud of it. If an affiliation is something that could call your character into question down the road, it might be better to leave it off your digital trail.

About the author: Melissa Stefanec is a SUNY Oswego alumnus who thinks she knows something about life. Feel free to indulge in, enjoy or disregard her writing.

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