Today’s world is being lived online whether we choose to acknowledge it or not.
For the majority of our society, this is not necessarily a bad thing, or at worst, it does very limited harm. For other’s though, it consumes their free time and stunts their abilities to interact with others via “old school” methods.
Just thing about it.
Social networking and social media have become the norm even for the media world these days. Most stories break these days on Twitter. We get our news about our friends and family from Facebook. It’s just the way it is.
On the one hand, you can argue that we have more outlets now than ever to reach out to and keep in touch with our friends and family. From that stand point, this is certainly true, but what happens when these mediums begin to effect our lives in a negative way?
Everyone knows the tales of Facebook ruining marriages. People reconnecting with lost loves, unable to resist the temptations of flirting “harmlessly” over the internet only for a jealous significant other to catch them and thus end the relationship. Nevermind the whole “catfish” practice, if that is the correct term, an unsuspecting boy or girl, man or woman, into an online romance under a false persona.
How about the times that social media can cost us our livelihood though?
Stories float around about someone taking the police entry exams only to be derailed by a misguided picture shared on their social networking profile. I personally know someone this has happened to as a matter of fact.
Let me share with you a much more innocent story though that cost a young journalist her goal of covering professional sports.
See, my day job is as sports editor and credential manager for a well syndicated news outlet. Since I am writing this article under a pen-name, I will leave the name of my organization out as well. Recently we hired a young woman with an extensive writing portfolio for multiple fan sites and blogs. Her work was truly second-to-none and was all written very professionally.
We had no problems applying for and receiving credentials for her to cover one of the professional sports teams in our region. Considering the generally competitive field to receive credentials to any of the four major sports leagues (MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL), this was a huge opportunity for her to further her career.
Less than a week after receiving her season credential, we received an email from the team stating that another media member from another organization had shared some Facebook posts that were from her private account, some Tweets that seemed innocent enough in nature, and a pair of links to a Tumblr account which she had maintained a private blog in the past.
These posts were not sexual in nature. There was no mention of drugs, no underage drinking. In short, there really was nothing at all out of the ordinary of these posts. They would cause 99% of the employers in the world no cause for concern at all. They were simply “fan posts” about the team she was going to be covering. They were written before she even had an inkling that she would have the opportunity to become a professional writer and move beyond it simply being a hobby.
Probably all of us have said something either positive or negative about players on the teams we love. I know I certainly have. Had it been a conversation at the bar, over the phone or via text message, she’d have been fine.
The posts in question caused enough of a concern for the team she would be covering though, and rather than risk her slipping up and becoming a fan while present in the locker rooms with the players, they revoked her credential and notified the other teams in the area of their decision, effectively ending her career as a local sports reporter before it even began.
As her employers, we stand behind her and she will continue to write for us, but the opportunity to be on-site covering the teams is gone, at least for now. And over what? Everyone in our industry understands the need to maintain an unbiased journalistic standard and remain objective. It is far fetched to believe that someone has been unbiased regarding sports their entire lives prior to beginning their career though. We understood this and were willing to give her the chance with the understanding she would carry herself in a professional manner headed into this assignment. The team couldn’t take that chance apparently.
Who’s to blame in this situation? The team for being overly cautious with their image and their players in an attempt to maintain a comfortable environment? The writer for having the audacity to be a fan prior to becoming a journalist and expressing her views in a public forum? Social media for allowing her the platform to do so? Or us, her employers, for not realizing this would be as big of an issue and taking a chance on a talented writer with true promise?
Truthfully and sadly, the blame is shared by all parties.
The moment I became a credentialed journalist, I deactivated all of my social networking and public profile pages. I opted for a brand new Twitter handle and started from scratch with zero Tweets to be assured that I would have a clean public image as far as the teams I was covering.
Truthfully, I probably took it to a bit of an extreme, but I felt I needed to in order to not be called into question when something as simple as being a fan can cost you your dream job.
Every facet of our lives are played out in the digital world for essentially everyone to see. Seemingly every event of our lives are detailed on our Facebook pages, Twitter feeds and Tumblr accounts. Our new source of sharing our treasured memories, or even just passing moments, our Instagram accounts, Flickr, or again, Facebook. We think we keep these private, but with the internet there truly is no privacy and not nearly enough caution is given to the things we post.
If nothing else, let this be a warning to the generation coming up in high school and college now. The stuff you post on a public forum such as the internet does stick with you. While you don’t give a second thought to posting it now, it has the potential to come back and haunt you in job interviews, promotion opportunities, partnerships, relationships, etc.
And keep in mind, it’s not always the obvious offenses, sometimes it’s as simple as sharing something innocent without thinking of the consequences that could come. Well, at least if journalism is your chosen profession.