Social Media: You Might Want to Consider a Personal Social Media Policy (A Warning to My Younger Friends)

There is an old saying, I think I first heard from my mother. “Better to keep your mouth shut and thought a fool, than to open it and remove all doubt.” Perhaps I should be heeding my own words right now, but I think we all face a potential to too easily abuse this philosophy when using social media and it merits conversation. Especially our youth face a world where they can so readily open their celphones to remove all doubt, I fear the documentation they are creating for themselves will destroy their opportunity to delude (in a healthy way) themselves and their children once they reach an age of reason;-) . Because let’s face it… We all did things in our youth that we would rather not be known by our children or people who respect us in our antiquity. When I share my thoughtless (not dumb) youthful experiences with anyone, especially my children, I want to couch them with “Man was I thoughtless (not dumb)...” even though I know, I was dumb.

I find myself occasionally considering un-friending some people on a popular social network because I really find some of their language... vulgar. I think there is a difference in the way I think about social media verses the way ( I am going to say) younger folks think about social media. I know this makes me sound ancient and perhaps a little like I don’t appreciate younger perspectives, but younger people hear me out. I considered carefully that my generalization to youth might be considered intolerant or disrespectful to you. I came through that examination of conscience concluding it’s an intolerance I am ready to expose, bear, and justify for you and I hope in the end, my thorough respect and concern for you will be clearly expressed.

Let me start with an analogy to my youth and share a (hypothetical) thoughtless moment with potential for long term impact if social media had been available in my youth. When I put a post out to a social media environment like a site that has “friends”, I consider it akin to making table conversation at my brother’s wedding 30 years ago. A table of friends at a wedding is really a pretty broad potential audience if you consider it in the larger whole. At the table, there are probably people I know well and who know me who are less likely to take anything I say out of context or spread it maliciously. There are people nearby my table with whom I might have acquaintance. I presumably think well of these acquaintances, but none the less, I might not intimate some things within their hearing that I might discuss with closer friends. I use some discretion. There might even be people within earshot who I don’t know at all, so I might thoughtfully, until I am drunk, even lower my voice for some conversations.

All of these people at my brother’s wedding know other people who are not at the wedding and they, in turn, know other people ad infinitum. There really is a potential for what I say and/or do, if juicy enough to encourage general interest, to get out to a vast audience. The further it goes, the more it can be taken out of context too and misquoted. In general, in a crowd especially 30 years ago, it was wise to think twice before I spoke or took action if for no other reason than I could embarrass myself and my family.

Here lies my point. In my youth, I didn't think twice sometimes. Sometimes I didn't think at all. I decided poorly many times. Very little information about these decisions however is on records that are permanent. I can tell you, it’s all hearsay. I can remember it my way and my brothers and sisters and anyone else can remember it their way and , thank God!, nothing can be proven. That's my story and I am sticking to it.

The reach of online friends networks are exactly like the guests at a wedding. Except, here lies the big difference between my youthful indiscretions and even your little youthful indiscretions in social media… Anything that gets repeated outside my brother’s wedding is “hearsay”. However, anything that gets forwarded or shared outside your circle of friends online is “evidence.” We did have video tape 30 years ago. (The thought does occasionally wake me in the middle of the night, but so far, it appears to be in the hands of thoughtful people with more discretion than I sometimes show. God speed the degradation of magnetic media… But I digress.) Youth of today have the problem of video tape multiplied by megabytes.

Younger people, I have to at least warn you so, if I live long enough, I can say “I told you so.” Social media environments are not a place you want to be cursing, venting, or otherwise embarrassing yourselves with angry or drunken words or video. Imagine it as a wedding reception happening every day. Image at this reception, you do something like … hypothetically… aggressively call out your father’s date because she is being a jerk to you. In my day, one could count on one’s husband to quietly haul me out… I mean… Hypothetically, at a real wedding 30 years ago, your partner or friend might quietly haul you out before you did something too thoughtless (not dumb. ) But today at your ongoing online wedding reception with friends and friends of friends, if you don’t take the time to think, all your friends are seeing your total indiscretion in real time and trust me, they are making copies. That’s a lot of potential blackmail material getting deeply stashed in some back-up server ready to come haunt you at the worst possible time in your career.

Young folks, your problem gets worse… Those who love you can’t be there to “haul you out” as my hypothetical husband did, when you are all by yourself doing thoughtless (not dumb) things alone in your room. All we can do is say in advance in our best suicide negotiating voices, “ When you are angry, drunk, naked or even partially naked, step away from the keyboard or cellphone.” Even if you are just a little mad or the person you are mad at is not on your friends list, if you aren’t going to say something nice, or thoughtful, or interesting, or for the purpose of factually stimulating public conversation, you don’t need to be saying it to ALL your friends.

Make a distribution of a few close friends in advance if you can’t stop yourself from letting someone know you are thoughtless. Let the small group absorb it. Hopefully their heads are clearer than yours (and you never make them mad.) Another option… Mark it private until you sober up… I mean think it through. Trust this totally thoughtless geek… WHAT YOU UPLOAD TO THE INTERNET DOES NOT ERASE, EVER. You really don’t want to put things out there that you may regret in 30 years.

Hypothetically…, I thank God every day I didn’t have social media and the internet in my youth. I am a healthier person for my ability to ignore the facts and create my own disillusions of my youth. I know and admit I made some BAD decisions... A lot of them. But I can remember them the way I want to remember and I don't need the facts to confuse me.

So here is my wisdom for you in a nutshell… I consider myself seriously lucky to have been born in a time when I didn’t have a “virtual brother’s wedding” creating a permanent record of all my embarrassing youthful thoughtlessness (not dumbness). My comfort level with sharing information about "me" has changed with age, mood, hormones… that was probably more than I should share… sorry. Trust me, your comfort level with sharing information about yourself will change and you will wish someday that no one knew something that you did today.

I am a late comer to appreciating the positive aspects of social media. I love that I get to see what my kids are up to and what all my nieces and nephews, young and old friends are doing these days. For the most part, I find their vicarious sharing of their lives and thoughts are fun and interesting. Their love for life is infectious and this is where I see the exponential power of social media being a blessing.

But there are a few of you, I just want to say "What are you thinking?"