The cost of a Facebook faux pas

Stand up if you’ve never posted to an online forum, blog, social network, commented on a news story or complained to a product support website while angry, drunk, or have otherwise regretted a posting.

The cost of a Facebook faux pas

I hope you’re all sitting comfortably. All of us sometimes say things we regret, lose our temper at a loved one, become frustrated with some product or service and take it out on a wretched call-centre ’droid. And sometimes the cure is simple: say sorry, feel guilty for a while, forget.

But not if that post was to a social network or blog – your faux pas will have immediately been published, distributed and archived. Google will continue to find it and from there the whole world has access to it, forever.

You might imagine then that we’d all be incredibly careful about what we say online, and to whom, but just the opposite seems to be the case. Although we leave a click-trail that can be easily and instantly traced back to us in the real world, we still perceive the online world to be somehow cloaked in a casual anonymity, because we don’t know who we’re talking to and they don’t know who we are either.

This misconception that the virtual world is totally separated from the real one allows us to shrug off responsibility and accountability, and we start to think of our online persona as somehow different from our real selves.

This “dissociative anonymity” leads to a disinhibition that in turn creates a kind of virtual no-man’s-land where never shall online actions meet real-world consequences. Unfortunately, the real world has a nasty habit of demolishing such nonsense with a bloody great thump…

The tattooed man

I tried explaining all this to just such a dissociated person recently, after he’d posted all kinds of misguided rants on a very public forum. “Misguided” because he was in the process of applying for a job as an IT analyst having just left university with a very good degree.

His argument was that an analyst shouldn’t be scared of having opinions, no matter how controversial, and that potential employers would reward him for his independent thinking. Er, well, (cough), possibly…

The guy was obviously getting his careers confused: perhaps he really wanted to be a journalist rather than an analyst. Anyway, I eventually got my point across by explaining that I wear two career hats, one a consultant’s and the other a technology journalist’s. With my writer’s hat on I’ll happily travel the world in jeans and a T-shirt with my armful of tattoos on show, but I well understand that when I’m being paid big bucks as a consultant a suit is required to cover those tattoos.

(Okay, my back-piece peeps slightly over my collar, but I guess I’m allowed to be a bit of the rebel.) The point is that I haven’t so far tattooed any skin that I can’t cover if necessary, and I decide who sees them and who doesn’t. My unwise friend, however, had done the online equivalent of tattooing a swastika on his forehead.

He’d made his opinions known very clearly, in language most inappropriate for someone who wishes to be taken seriously in business. And covering up these publicly posted statements will prove all but impossible.

Not that I can claim to be innocent of online stupidity. My track record is still out there for anyone who wants to look for it. I started using Micronet, FidoNet, USENET and Cix (all true social networks by the way: Facebook and Twitter aren’t quite the pioneers they’d have us believe) 20 years ago, and I jumped in with both feet.

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