Truth and Consequences: Social Media Is The New “Permanent Record”

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Tomorrow I am going to be sitting on a panel for the marketing community in Toronto as an expert on “youth”.  In perusing the subject matter on which I am to be prepared to comment, one particular category entitled: “techno-powered: speed of information / innovation, new forms of connectivity and values shifts” got me going a bit. This is where I landed:

Do you remember when you were young and you could do / say dumb sh*t and you might or might not get caught and have to face consequences? You might have cut class to go to the beach. Perhaps you had a little too much to drink at that dorm room party and literally danced your pants off before getting sick in the hallway. Maybe got angry with your friend and wanted to call them up and scream at them but the line was (fortunately) busy. Or maybe you just exercised an occasional lapse of judgment and behaved impulsively from time to time: saying or doing things you didn’t mean or that might have been out of character. And maybe you just were wild and crazy and liked it that way. As long as you didn’t get arrested doing your thing it was all good.

But oh how times have changed. We have lost the anonymity of our impulses and the ability to give ourselves time to reflect on our regretful behavior – and to learned from our mistakes before they became indelible.  Instead of being able to get by under the radar and rethink before we act, we now how a permanent home for all of our indiscretions – social media!

In today’s age of immediate access people forget to think before they act. You don’t have to take that film in to be developed anymore. Heck – you don’t even have to take the time to upload your pictures from your camera to your computer. Everything  gets it’s own instantaneous place of “honor” on Facebook or Instagram or whatever app you have for that – showing the world all of what would have once been stupidity reserved for your friends or “circle of trust”.  Now that you can say or do anything to anyone (or everyone, for that matter) in an instant, we have lost that filter. Relationship are initiated and ended virtually. When you’re pissed off at someone you can barf out an angry monologue via text message or Facebook without thinking twice…never mind writing that letter and deciding whether or not you are going to send it. There’s no garbage bin to lob your crumpled anger in to anymore.

Now you see memes created by the follies of naïve 25 year-olds calling in sick to work to go to party and putting pictures of themselves in fairy-wings on Facebook for their bosses to find.

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Or what about that poor “Star Wars Kid” who just wanted to be Luke Skywalker for a minute but fell prey to a bully with access to the Internet?

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And how about that banking executive who put his Chic-Fil-A drive-thru rant to a 15 year-old fast food employee on YouTube and lost his job for it?

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There are scores and scores of embarrassing videos or Facebook photo-bombs and twitter melees to speak of that have allowed too many people to air what should have been their own private truths and turned them into varying degrees of consequences.

So lest you think that your harmless antics are a flash in the pan to be enjoyed in the moment by your nearest and dearest and soon forgotten, be sure to think again. Whatever you put out there is fair game for the world to perceive you and judge you. You are what you “tweet” and if you can see it chances are anyone else who wants to can as well. I have spoken with countless HR execs and employers who check candidate’s Facebook pages and / or Google them right after reviewing their resume. Incriminating evidence on social media is a hell of a way to fail a background check. Your personal lives are fair game – so lets hope that the self you put out there is the one you want everyone to know.

It makes me wonder about the social construction of identity and how that will change as virtual socializing becomes ingrained in us. Will we reserve the best and / or worst of ourselves for offline, private company or put it all out there to the world? Will we be choiceful about how we paint our own portraits: limiting content to what we want others to believe versus what we actually are? Or will social media be our ultimate integrity-check: providing a way for us to reflect on our true selves and make meaningful human connections in the virtual world, thus expanding the limitations of our physical proximity?

Regardless of the path the fact remains intact: whatever we do decide to do on social media will forever reside in cyberspace. I am willing to bet money that in another 20 years we will all be able to start purchasing our social media autobiographies – so we can show our kids and grandkids exactly who we were “when I was your age” – finding new ways to scar our children for life even after they have hit adulthood.  Next step:  Google “hangout” group therapy?

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2 thoughts on “Truth and Consequences: Social Media Is The New “Permanent Record”

  1. Social Media is also mostly to blame for the “growth” of extremely partisan politics as well. Before the internet gave a voice to everyone, the more colorful mindsets in the world didn’t get a whole lot of attention. Now you know what everyone is really thinking and how divided people really are.

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