COLUMN: The perils of post privacy on social media

Mike Shields, Account Manager at Shooting Star. Photo: supplied. EMN-180223-142000001
Mike Shields, Account Manager at Shooting Star. Photo: supplied. EMN-180223-142000001

The Mayor of Boston in Lincolnshire was recently called to step down from his role following allegations over potentially offensive comments he made on his private Facebook page. Many readers have since questioned how something posted privately could be used against someone in public office. So we asked PR and Marketing firm and social media experts Shooting Star, based in Lincoln, for their thoughts.

Social media is now infiltrating almost every part of our daily lives. From the young to the old, we are becoming increasingly willing to share personal information and intimate moments online. For this reason, it is important now more than ever to be hyper-aware of what we are publishing, whether intended to be public or not, and the potential consequences.

There have been numerous occasions when people in positions of responsibility or power have been forced to resign over controversial updates they have posted on Twitter.

One recent case involved Toby Young, who was appointed by the Government to oversee university regulation. A string of offensive tweets directed at women as well as controversial writing about working-class students led to his resignation.

The question must be, can a post on social media ever be private? We all need to be aware, not least people in positions of power and influence, that contacts, friends and family members could share our posts on Facebook further afield if measures aren’t taken to mitigate this. Ensuring your privacy is set so that only friends can see your posts is essential; but be warned: anything you make available online can now be screenshotted, meaning it can then be shared anywhere. Nothing is truly private these days.

The luxury of context isn’t often taken into consideration in these cases. Once the public has become offended, a supposedly innocent joke between friends can often grow into an unexpected saga of embarrassment or ridicule.

It is not just those in positions of public trust or power that can be affected. Businesses need to be vigilant too. Posts often live on longer than the thought that created them, sometimes even after deletion. To press the ‘send’ button is to commit.

There was a memorable propaganda poster in World War Two which warned that ‘Careless Talk Costs Lives’, and the same can be applied today in terms of careers or reputation and the casual use of social media.

One careless comment could fatally end your career.

Column from Mike Shields, Account Manager at Shooting Star