Beware! What you say on social media can and will hurt your career!

Well, it’s that time again.  Just like stores start selling Christmas decorations in October, the campaign for president has begun 16 months before the actual election.  Whether this is right is a conversation for another day.  Instead, I’m going to discuss one of the unfortunate byproducts the campaign season. 
Fifteen years ago political speech for most people consisted of putting a sign in your yard in September every two years.  Today we have this terrible/wonderful communication tool called social media and every 2 – 4 years it has been exploited by politics.  In an attempt to create a viral sensation, each side of the aisle creates media that is intended to be shared.  What gets the most shares?  Cats – we all love cats.  But the second most shared thing on the internet are things designed to be incendiary.  Let’s be honest here.  Most of the things created for political speech are designed to make one side say “this is awesome!” and the other side say “I’m so angry.”
The two things that drive the internet – cats and divisive comments…
 Social media  has allowed us to become more interconnected than ever.  Think about it – now we no longer share our private thoughts and beliefs with a small circle of friends who actually know you and the person that you are.  Instead, we connect with every trivial relationship that we have.  That friend of of a friend that was so nice at that party one time – twenty years ago you’d never see them again.  Today you are Facebook buddies and they see things about you.  Even worse often times their friends do too!  The problem is that these people don’t really know you and have no capacity to look at your posts in context.  The odds are that you have probably offended someone who doesn’t know you well enough to know what you meant. 
Is this fair?  The answer to this question is pretty simple – it doesn’t matter.  Facebook and the like has amped up the right to free speech to the nth degree.  You and every other person has the right to post or say whatever you want.  You also have the right to hurt people’s feelings, offend people, and appear to be a hypocrite.  That’s the double edged sword that comes with the freedom.  That’s what I’m here to talk to you about today.  This can hurt your career.  This can derail your career.  This can limit your options.
Here’s the deal.  Employers can choose not to hire you or fire you for what you say on Facebook or other social media outlets and you have no recourse.  Your right to free speech is only protected in that the government can’t persecute you for it.  It doesn’t extend to the workplace.  If you don’t believe me – please Google fired for Facebook post.  Here are some results from the first page of the Google Search:
So how do you protect yourself?  Here are some options:
1.  Make all of your settings private
This is probably a good idea.  However, this doesn’t entirely protect you.  Here are the holes in this solution:
-your connections can still see your posts (problematic if you are friends with bosses and coworkers)
-Once something is on the internet it is there forever
-you have no control over what others that are allowed to see your posts do with it – they can always screenshot posts and share them in other ways.
2.  Drop out of social media
While it is an effective solution, it is horribly impractical and self-defeating.  After all, car accidents are the #7 killer in the United States.  Should you stop driving.  No you shouldn’t drive drunk and should always wear a seatbelt.  If you drop out of social media you miss out on a ton of opportunity both professionally and personally.
3.  Watch what you post
This is by far the best way to handle things.  Just stop and think before you post.  I want to be clear here.  I’m not advocating that you mind your posts because of some politically correct belief that you need to be nice.  Instead, I’m suggesting this because I think that your number one priority is to look out for numero uno.    Before you hit post  you should  consider the following things:
-why am I posting this?
-what am I gaining from this post?
-Does it involve race, sexuality, religion or the like?
-Could someone take this out of context?
Additionally, you should remember that intent is irrelevant.  In the business world and in your career perception is everything.  What you do is far less important that what you are perceived to have done. 

The fact of the matter is that we live in a polarized country right now.  We are a nation divided on several issues.  If you choose to post about divisive issues, the odds are that half of the people you know don’t agree.  Some of them might disagree passionately. Now, some of you might feel that I’m advocating being politically correct and am somehow against free speech.  I’m not.  In fact, I think we have gone too far with our outrage culture.  However , my opinion  doesn’t change reality.  The reality is that your actions on social media impact your career;  50% of the world probably doesn’t agree with you; and what’s fair doesn’t matter.   Do you want to leave your career prospects up to a coin flip?

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