The demise this week of Paris Brown, Britain’s first youth police and crime commissioner, highlights many of the potential pitfalls of speaking your mind using social media. Following a report in the Mail on Sunday, it emerged that the 17-year old tweeted a number of racist, homophobic and potentially offensive comments between the ages of 14 and 16 that has ultimately led to her very public resignation.
Aside from the obvious social and moral issues, it’s also worth considering the role that new media played in this particular case and the lessons they can teach all of us – both old and young.
Conversations in social media are not ‘private’
The growth and proliferation of social media has given everyone the ability to broadcast and publish any thought, idea, musing or insult to millions of people across the world. If Ms Brown had made similar comments online only 10 or 15 years ago (most likely via instant messenger), it’s unlikely they would have surfaced in quite the way they did last weekend.
But with the advent of powerful social networks, notably Facebook and Twitter, conversations and comments can no longer be considered private regardless of privacy settings or protected tweets.
Consider your ‘digital footprint’
The Paris Brown case is particularly pertinent for young people. When I was growing up, there wasn’t the ability to talk so openly and candidly online with friends and followers in the way we can today. And whilst I would never have said the type of things Ms Brown tweeted, given the opportunity I might nevertheless have talked about things I might later regret should a potential college, university or employer stumble across them during a routine background check.
My advice to anyone venturing into social media is to consider anything you say online to be both public and permanent. It’s worth imagining what you, your family, friends and colleagues would think should any comment you make online appear on the front page of a national paper the next day. In the heat of the moment, a throwaway remark might seem like a good idea but how would you feel about it hours, days or even years later?
Everything you publish online is a reflection of you, even if it’s just a snapshot from a moment in time. Whilst comments can often be taken out of context, unfortunately first impressions and perceptions are made nonetheless so it’s up to you to take control of your image and reputation online.
Leverage the positive power of social media
Whilst Paris Brown’s experience with social media has been a negative one, I think it’s also worth considering the many positive opportunities social media can offer.
As well as Facebook and Twitter, other social networks, notably LinkedIn, Pinterest and Google+, give users the ability to publish, create and share thoughts and experiences that wasn’t possible only a few years ago. Whilst we must always be vigilant online, we should also embrace and leverage the opportunity to build a positive personal brand and reputation using a portfolio of exciting, creative and engaging social channels.