By Todd Bacile | November 21, 2012
In the immortal words of former NFL coach Herm Edwards, “Don’t press send.” Coach Edwards’ famous line was used to describe the social media world we now live in. Once a person presses a button to publish text, a picture, or a video there is not a magic un-do button. You must live with the consequences.
Due to the far-reaching effects at lightning-fast speed of social media’s viral nature, there is a certain degree of risk present if one chooses to publish content which others may perceive to be offensive. The image depicted above is from the most recent example of a poor decision gone viral. What started as a joke shared on her Facebook profile has since turned into a national story .
The young woman depicted above thought it would make for a funny picture if she was portrayed as yelling and flashing an offensive gesture in front of a sign at the Arlington National Cemetery which read “Silence and Respect”. Thousands soon became outraged due to the cemetery being the final resting place to 400,000 American casualties of war.
The rest is the epitome of viral. The picture has since received over 10,000 re-shares and 4,000 comments. National print and TV media are running with the story. Anonymity of the Internet? Not for this young woman, whose first name, last name, and place of employment is featured in these stories. In addition, a Facebook page called “Fire (first name last name)” has received over 18,000 “Likes”.
It gets worse for her. The picture was allegedly taken during a work outing at the cemetery. Her employer’s Facebook page has since received over 4,900 comments posted to its wall about the incident, most being extremely negative. Amid the huge wave of negative PR, her employer has chosen to place her on leave and is determining whether she should lose her job.
The point of this story is that every one of us has an online reputation (i.e. a personal brand). Every tweet, every status update, and every YouTube video you share is contributing toward your personal brand. You have to be careful what you choose to share via social media. Even if a story is unlikely to go viral, search engines such as Google and Topsy can locate virtually anything online.
This story is relevant to all of us, but is a very important lesson for college students. Most students are heavy users of social media. Some students choose to share what one person may believe is ‘funny’, while another may believe it is ‘offensive’. And nearly all students will soon be looking for jobs as they enter “The Real World”. At any moment an employer or potential employer may find that one embarrassing moment you chose to publish some time ago. Don’t get caught in that situation. Think before you share things online. If the content to be shared is questionable in your mind, then follow the advice of Coach Edwards. Don’t press send.
Todd Bacile is a marketing doctoral candidate and instructor for Electronic Marketing and Services Marketing in the College of Business at Florida State University. Social Media Marketing Magazine recently ranked him as one of the Top 100 Marketing Professors on Twitter. You can contact him on Twitter @toddbacile