What You Post Online May Ruin Your Future
Renee Wong, 14 Sep 17

Have you ever been in an online chatgroup that made you uncomfortable? Or have you ever seen online postings that you felt crossed a line in some way? What did you do?  Think about the times when social media platforms caused you to stop and consider your own online presence. What were those postings and why do you remember them?

Harvard University recently rescinded admission offers for at least 10 students for an obscene Facebook chat. The prospective members of the Harvard Class of 2021 reportedly were part of a small Facebook chat designed for admitted students to share explicit memes and messages. The incident has sparked a lot of discussion: Was Harvard’s decision justified? Did the university do enough to explain its decision or to create a space for discussion around it?

Singaporeans are one of the most active social media users in the world with a social penetration rate of 70%, which is more than double the global average of 34%, according to ‘Digital in 2017’ cited by The Business Times. The report also showed more than three in four Singaporeans using social media now, up 22 per cent from 2016, writes The Business Times. In recent years, social media has also affected politics in Singapore.

Children nowadays regard social media as a prophylactic that allows for any behaviour or utterance, without parental or other influences. Social medial applications can further misguide young users, giving them the impression that they can somehow vaporise photos or comments from the cloud forever.

In contrast, Millennials and Gen Xers either grew up with some kind of social media, or were introduced to it relatively early on. Apart from focusing around social uses to connect with friends, family, and entertainment, these generations focus around educational purposes that allow them to engage with news content, and to stay up-to-date with timely events and news. They tend to make use of social media in the workplace as well, either to find a job or to work on career-related matters. In some cases, they use social media as an avenue to voice out their opinions on certain issues.

Mind Your ‘Electronic Tattoo’

As the use of social media continues to evolve, the concept of presenting our ideal selves versus our authentic selves has become more and more prevalent. The question we have to ask ourselves is: Are we really presenting our authentic selves or are we presenting a hyper-idealistic version of ourselves on social media? Our “authentic self” is who we are – our attributes, our characteristics, and our personality. Our “ideal self” is who we feel we should be, much of it due to societal and environmental influences.

From a societal standpoint, many individuals are driven by competition, achievement, and status or to belong to a certain social group, which results in the creation and portrayal of our ideal selves on the social platforms that may sometimes be a misrepresentation of our true selves.

In 2013, Juan Enriquez – a Mexican-American academic, businessman, and speaker – shared in his TED talk entitled ‘Your online life, permanent as a tattoo’ that social media has become a form of electronic tattoo, providing information about who and what you are.

Juan Enriquez 

He shared how it has become very difficult for us to remain anonymous in our current digital age since almost every electronic application we use daily (for example, Facebook, Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, GPS, Travel Advisor) leaves an electronic footprint. With technologies such as facial recognition, we could easily check the background of a person even before physically meeting the person, from a photograph shared on Facebook. With such transparency, companies are now able to find out the preference of individuals and promote products based on the information of their behavioural patterns gathered online. It is therefore vital for us to be careful of our online presence, since our electronic tattoos will live longer than our physical bodies.

In 2015, another TED talk by Jon Ronson – a Welsh journalist, author, documentary filmmaker, screenwriter, and radio presenter – entitled ‘When online shaming goes too far’ touched on the same problem. He presented an example of how a lady by the name of Justine Sacco, a senior Corporate Communications Director from New York, posted a careless “racist” tweet that ruined her career and her life after it was retweeted by one of her followers while she was asleep and offline on an 11-hour flight to Africa.

He also pointed out that while there were some people who were genuinely upset by Justine’s tweet, social media has manipulated our desire to gain approval from others. In this case, to be seen as being compassionate towards a third world country, it had led the audience of the tweet to act in a profoundly un-compassionate manner to shame and crush Justine.

Jon shared with the audience about the phrase "misuse of privilege" becoming a free pass to tear apart pretty much anybody we choose to, making it a devalued term. It has also made us lose our capacity for empathy and for distinguishing between serious and unserious transgressions on social media.

While social media has given the voiceless a voice, it has also created a surveillance society, where people are creating a stage of constant artificial high drama where everyone is either a magnificent hero or a sickening villain, even though in reality we know that that is is not entirely true about our fellow human.

In his book entitled ‘So you’ve been publicly shamed’, Jon compares social media condemnation to the public floggings of centuries ago. He urges people to consider what they post online both in regard to sharing their own views or commenting on the views of others.

Regardless of their age group or the purpose of using social media, social media has somehow become part of a person’s brand – a brand that can help you or hurt you, either for your future employers, potential dates or partner, or even your admission to university. How should you portray yourself without losing your authentic self on social media? What can we do to prevent our “electronic tattoo” from ruining our future? How should we train ourselves to consider what we post online both in regard to sharing our own views or commenting on the views of others?

Effects on Career

According to an online study by JobsCentral in 2012, at least three in four employers (75.1 per cent) would do online researches on potential job candidates in Singapore. Social media sites, mainly LinkedIn (38.4 per cent) and Facebook (34.3 per cent), are the most commonly used channels by snooping employers.Survey carried out by JobCentral in 2012

Below are some examples of cases in Singapore where individuals were dismissed from their jobs due to their postings on social media.

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