Be careful what you write
Andrew Sheeler / Editor-in-Chief
April 12, 2011
Ever have one of those days when you get so angry you just have to post about it on Facebook? Maybe your bank made you mad, so you post on your wall that you’d like to set its employees on fire. One student in Lathrop Hall wrote just such a comment, apparently unaware that banks routinely Google themselves to check for publicity and threats. He received a friendly visit from UAF police, who sought to determine whether the threats were real or not. The shocked student swore he would never commit such an act and would refrain from making such posts in the future.
A recurring theme at the 2011 Alaska Press Club Conference was that journalists should watch what they post online. A careless wall post or a reckless tweet could cast a cloud of bias over any story you write. Worse, it could cost you your job. CNN’s Middle East Bureau Chief, Octavia Nasr was fired after tweeting her respect for a Hezbollah leader who had died. Journalist Nir Rosen stepped down from a fellowship position at New York University’s Center on Law and Security after he tweeted that CNN correspondent Lara Logan “had to outdo Anderson” Cooper after Logan was attacked and sexually assaulted by a mob in Cairo.
Journalists aren’t the only ones, though, who need to be careful what they put online. After taking to YouTube to rant about Asian students in the library, UCLA student Alexandra Wallace received strong condemnation from across the world. She also received death threats that forced the school to change her finals schedule after it was posted online.
Then there are the people who constantly update their Facebook and Twitter pages with where they are at any given moment. My Facebook wall is flooded with people checking in at Fairbanks International Airport, Bobby’s Downtown Restaurant and the UAF Pub. While I’m sure they’re very proud to be at that location with five of their Facebook friends, people should think twice about posting their whereabouts. Programs like Creepy, created by Yiannis Kakavas, make it easier than ever to stalk people through their social media updates. Creepy was designed to serve as a warning to social media addicts, but it provides enterprising stalkers and burglars with a handy way of keeping tabs on their potential victims.
Posting something under a pseudonym doesn’t necessarily offer you protection either. There are ways for people to find out who you are. As editor, I occasionally receive letters written under an assumed name. These people take issue with something I wrote, but don’t have the courage to put their own name on their letter. What they forget is that I am a journalist, it’s my job to know who they are. It’s what I do for a living. There’s no such thing as anonymity now.
I’m not the only one whose job it is to know who I’m talking to. As graduation and summer near, students will look for jobs. What do you think your prospective employer will think when they see you making out with somebody in your Facebook profile photo, or bragging about getting wasted at that kegger last week?
That kid in Lathrop Hall didn’t really want to light some bank employees on fire. I know because a decade ago, I was in his shoes. I posted a rant on a message board for my high school. I didn’t make any threats, but the rant was so full of hateful invective that it made some students nervous. I received a visit from the Fairbanks police. It didn’t matter that I didn’t mean anything by that rant. The police had to make certain I wasn’t the next Dylan Klebold.
You are not anonymous. You are not invisible. You should treat what you say on Facebook and Twitter the same way you treat your words when at work. Whether you aspire to be a fry cook or President of the United States of America, those words will come back to haunt you. As the saying goes, keep your words soft and sweet because you never know when you’ll have to eat them.