There are many things of which a wise man might wish to be ignorant.1
In the age of Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat, it is essential for us to focus on both how we communicate and what we communicate. So, what does that mean? Since the advent of social media, people firmly believe others want or need to see their every move; but not everything is best shared. People forget that sometimes it’s better to communicate face-to-face, like the good ol’ days. Additionally, we are so quick to get information out there that we fail to think through or proofread the potential post—and we should proofread everything. Remember that what you post on social media might be someone’s first impression of you; you want to make sure it is a positive impression. Below are ten things to think about before you post on social media. The bottom line is this: think before you post.
1. It really does last forever.
The minute you post something, it is out there. You may go back to delete it, but it was out there long enough for individuals to see it, share it, or capture it via a screen grab. A screenshot can get as much traction as an original post. I don’t watch much reality television,2 but there was recently a controversy surrounding one of the contestants on the Bachelorette. He routinely liked posts that were discriminatory and inappropriate.3 This came to light after individuals started sharing screen captures identifying him as an individual who had liked the posts. Facebook even states on its site: “When you choose to delete something you shared on Facebook, we remove it from the site. Some of this information is permanently deleted from our servers; however, some things can only be deleted when you permanently delete your account.”4
2. Do people care what you are eating for dinner?
I am more of a silent stalker than a poster. It is amazing how much I know about some people I have not talked to in years. Now, I am not stalking in a creepy way, I am just watching what comes up in my news feed. People post everything from what they are eating for dinner to vague posts about having a terrible day. Some people post their every move. This might not be wise in some situations, and it may actually be dangerous. Social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram have geotags that allow people to see your exact location. This is even more of a concern for military members. The Department of Defense has banned geolocation features in designated operational areas.5
3. Why does social media so frequently equal poor grammar?
Many people seem to totally forget grammar when they are posting something online. When your future staff judge advocates (SJAs) go to search for your online presence, which they will—or someone in the office reports back to the SJA—they might decide you don’t know the difference between your and you’re.6 There are, in fact, some SJAs out there with poor grammar from subordinates as their number one pet peeve, and you don’t want that to be the first impression they have of you. We are told over and over by superiors and peers to proofread our own work, so why don’t we carry that advice with us when it comes to posts on social media? Some people will not be able to see past grammatical errors to read the amazing information you just posted about your cat.
4. If you would not say it in a group of people, do not say it on social media.
People feel brave sitting behind a keyboard, so they have a tendency to type things they would not actually say aloud. Before you post something, think to yourself, “Would I be okay saying this in front of my SJA?” Additionally, ask yourself if what you are going to post comports with the Army Values. We are all a part of the Department of Defense, and when we post something, our followers may attribute it to our positions in the military. Many of our feeds contain pictures of us in uniform; this should be an even greater reminder to mind your Ps and Qs.7 Moreover, the Army website states we need to “type messages that are consistent with our U.S. Army values.”8
5. You are being judged by your social media presence.
Refer to tip number three, above, about the poor grammar. When you report for duty at your next assignment, is the leadership going to think you are unaware there’s no such thing as an expresso? Your pictures matter, your comments matter, and your posts matter. You may think something is harmless fun, but the person seeing the photo may make a totally different judgment. Almost 70% of employers look for the internet9 presence of individuals applying for jobs.10 That may be a statistic from the civilian workforce, but SJAs are doing the same thing or asking someone else in the office to see what is out there. Do you want your new office to think of you as a professional individual, or do you want your new office to think of you as someone who hasn’t realized she graduated from college years ago? It can sometimes be hard to overcome the judgments that are made based on what you have sent out into the digital world—fix that by thinking before you post.
6. You were taught to share as a child, and the sharing of ideas is good—sharing posts, maybe not.
This goes for liking posts, too. People reading the post you shared may not grasp the reason you are sharing it and attribute the thoughts and ideas to you. In some cases, that may be a good thing, but in others, it may not be the message you want to convey. Again, this also goes for liking a post (see the Bachelor11 contestant, above). You may have a variety of reasons you like a post, but others may think you support that idea or concept fully, and it can cause issues. The U.S. Army’s “tweeters” recently found out how this can happen. The twitter account for the Army liked a post from Mindy Kaling in January, and it was immediately interpreted that the U.S. Army was criticizing the administration. It may have been just a bad decision, but as soon as the tweet was “liked,” it was seen and the end result was an article in the Washington Post.12 Your liking a post may not get that level of attention, but all it takes is getting the attention of one person and an inaccurate interpretation to cause an issue.
7. Just because it is on social media does not mean it is true.
If you have not heard the term “fake news”13 you may not have to worry about this tip because you must not be on social media. Not everything you read on social media is true. I was recently scrolling through social media and saw that someone shared a post about sharks in North Carolina. On the surface nothing unusual, until I read the post closer and read that the sharks were swimming in the streets of North Carolina after Hurricane Florence. It was a totally false story, but it was floating around enough that there was then an article debunking the information. 14 Before you state something as fact, take the time to ensure it is correct.
8. Do you really want your boss (or future boss) to see that photo?
When people hear a name for the first time, they immediately turn to the internet to search for information. If the first picture that pops up is a picture of you at a college party in a toga, that might not be the main message you want to convey about yourself. Additionally, know that when you post pictures out there, others can capture them, save them, and use them later. Information and pictures posted on the internet are fair game for people to review when deciding whether or not to give you a job. Make sure the pictures you are using for your profile are something you want everyone to see and judge you on.
9. Private in the realm of social media does not actually mean private.
Don’t fool yourself by thinking your Facebook is private. Your SJA may be sitting next to someone who went to school with you, and as soon as they hear your name, they’ll pull up your page and . . . Whoa, there is that picture of you in a toga with a caption that reads “I know your jelous over their!” Now the SJA thinks you have poor grammar, but you never even intended for him or her to see that. It is a much safer practice to treat everything like everyone can see it.
10. Try to stick to pictures of children, food, and animals.
This tip doesn’t need much explanation; it’s more of a summary. Plus, what know-it-all article only has nine tips? All kidding aside, you already know about these tips. The important part is to put them into practice with every post, every share, every like. You can always count on this: children, food, and animals are generally safe to post and they tend to make people happy.
The Army Command team released a memo in regard to social media, and they want all of us to “Think, Type, Post.”15 What does that mean? They helpfully explain the tagline: “‘Think’ about the message being communicated and who could potentially view it now and for years to come; ‘Type’ a communication that is consistent with Army Values; and ‘Post’ only those messages that demonstrate dignity and respect for self and others.”16 Bottom line—think before you post. TAL
MAJ O’Donnell is a judge advocate in the U.S. Army Reserve and a partner in Bayliff, Harrigan, Cord, Maugans & Cox P.C., in Kokomo, Indiana. She is the former Professional Communications Program Director at TJAGLCS.
1. Ralph Waldo Emerson.
2. Okay, that’s a lie. But the rest of this article is true.
5. Memorandum from Deputy Sec’y of Def. to Chief Management Officer of the Dep’t of Def., et al., subject: Use of Geolocation-Capable Devices, Applications, and Services (Aug. 3, 2018). Combatant Commanders or their designees can make exceptions.
6. Or, even worse, they find out that you—gasp—don’t care about the difference.
7. Interestingly, nobody is sure where “Mind your Ps and Qs” comes from, though all theories agree: it means pay attention to what your you’re doing. https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/ps-and-qs/.
9. Yes, we’re no longer capitalizing “Internet” in the Bluebook and Chicago Manual of Style. https://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/chicago-updates-stop-capitalizing-internet-and-hyphenating-email (also no more hyphenating “email”). The AP Style Manual—always fashion-forward—decided to stop capitalizing “internet” in 2016. https://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2016/04/05/should-you-capitalize-internet/. In case you already know everything there is to know about thinking before you post on social media, this footnote is for you: so you don’t feel you’ve wasted your time reading this article. You’re welcome.