Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Social Media: A Cautionary Tale

Raise your hand if you’ve ever posted something stupid online. A joke. A picture. A Facebook status update or comment… Or have you ever had anything you’ve posted be misinterpreted? My hand’s up, and I bet yours is too -- as is the hand of every member of Congress, I’m sure.

We all do it, and we sometimes get called out, whether fairly or not. A friend of mine posted this interesting New York Times piece about a woman whose life turned into a nightmare when she tweeted something she says she thought was satire, but others took seriously.  The person who publicly shamed her later apologized. But it was too late.  She’d already lost her job along with any credibility in her field.

This cautionary tale made me resolve to think more carefully about what I post online, as well as what I’m going to get outraged about. Sure, there are some easy ‘immediate outrage’ situations, especially in the political world. Anthony Weiner comes to mind. And there are plenty of people who repeatedly post hurtful, dreadful, personally degrading things. I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t point fingers where finger pointing is necessary and even valuable. And as public figures, politicians should be held to a higher standard.

But in some cases, especially when these tweets happen during heated political debates, people hit send before they think, and they regret it later. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are terrible people (yeah, some are). It means they made a mistake. And sometimes those mistakes aren’t even substantive. Sometimes it’s just something they thought was funny and no one else did.

My first boss in Washington, DC once told me ‘never say anything you wouldn’t want on the front page of the Washington Post.’ This has become even more important, and more difficult, in the social media age. If we want a more civilized political discourse, perhaps we can all give each other a break every once in a while. I promise to do so if you will too.

-Written by Stephanie Vance, Advocacy Guru

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