Sunday is usually one of my more-active Twitter times, mainly because I find myself tweeting about football, especially when my Carolina Panthers are playing. However, it was during this football-ranting time I found one of the more interesting tweets of the week. Since I’ve recently found a habit of following more student affairs professionals, the subject matter has changed accordingly, which led to this tweet:
— Kristen Ryan (@Kristen_Ryan) November 25, 2013
I responded to say I add students I work with directly, and I do so with no restrictions. The reason I do this is simple: if I have something I wouldn’t want them to say, I do not put it on the Internet. For me, it’s a simple lesson, but it’s also one I had to learn the hard way almost ten years ago.
Heading into my senior year of college, I was selected to serve on the showcase selection committee for a regional chapter of a prominent student activities organization. For those who are unfamiliar with this, it means I sat in a board room with other students and student activities staff for four days, watching videos and listening to music, trying to determine who would be performing at our regional conference in the fall. It was a really cool experience, especially since I was confident I wanted to pursue a career in higher education at the time. I was so excited, in fact, I decided to write about the experience.
At the time, I had a blog with its own domain. I didn’t publicize it with any friends or really do much with it. This was not a private blog, but it’s not something I really expected anyone to find. I used this blog to talk about how excited I was to take part in showcase selection and all the great acts I got to watch and hear. Some of them were grammy-nominated, some of them were artists I had come to appreciate already, and some were just truly awful. However, as we moved on, my thoughts geared towards what I specifically thought of some of the different artists. “They’re charging $10,000 for that garbage?” I would lament.
That in itself should be a red flag, but it got worse. As we started making the tough decisions, I found myself frustrated as I felt we were bringing in some sub-par acts because they fit a certain vision. Getting frustrated by itself isn’t a problem, but specifically writing about my concerns and quoting staff in the room certainly was one. I’d say the 2013 version of me would grab that old version of me by the shirt and say, “How did you think this was a good idea?”
In the end, I didn’t think much of it. It was my personal blog which I didn’t expect anyone to find. I convinced myself it was over. Boy, was I wrong.
I called an agent shortly after getting back to campus to inquire about some acts. About five minutes into the conversation she asked, “Wait. Are you Mike Bowers?”
“Yeah, that’s me. Why?”
“Boy, you are a popular subject today.”
She went to explain that a very aggressive agent found my blog, read my complaints, and forwarded it to the entire organization. He saw this as his proof that the organization was biased and unfair, and he wanted everyone to know. Suddenly, I became the face of a cause I wasn’t fighting.
A couple of weeks went by, and I talked to many people: people I had angered, people I had slammed who were nice to reach out and say “no hard feelings,” and people at the top of the organization. To say I was embarrassed and humbled would be a major understatement. However, it was also a huge learning experience. I learned that no matter how obscure or “private” I thought my postings were, they were still out there.
It’s a similar outlook I use today with social media, and it’s one I encourage others to use as well. Privacy settings change, people who were once friends can suddenly have bad intentions, and people always find workarounds to privacy settings. Putting anything questionable out there is the first step towards having an awkward conversation with a colleague, a supervisor, or HR about why you shouldn’t be judged by a post or picture.
It’s admirable to make Facebook lists or have standards for what’s private, who can friend you, etc. In the end, though, if you think a particular post or picture could land you in hot water if found by the wrong person, don’t post it. This is one of those times where it’s better to be safe than to be sorry.