It is a truth universally acknowledged that a person in possession of a social media account will eventually have a regrettable public post. Certainly, that’s the assumption of 59% of teen social media users who have deleted or edited something they posted in the past. Adults are not immune to social media remorse: 74% of 18-34 year olds claim to have removed social media posts for fear of career detriment. Privacy settings may mitigate the risk, but don’t eradicate it entirely.
In the spirit of the Roving Typist’s I Am An Object of Internet Ridicule, Ask Me Anything, I offer up a personal story of a Facebook post gone viral.
I couldn’t resist commenting, “Shave, or we’re changing the locks. Love, Mom.” A friend of his quickly shared both the photo and the exchange to Reddit. Sure, the names were lightly redacted, but the profile photo matches mine on Twitter. Within a couple of hours, an enterprising Harvard College junior — let’s call him Zach, because that’s his name — posted this:
So, less than a day for a theoretically private comment to travel from Facebook to Reddit to Twitter. I posted quickly on Reddit to implore the Redditors with pitchforks not to show up at the door, and assumed it would be an amusing anecdote about social media and the futility of privacy settings for a couple of weeks.
Ten months later, it’s a minor meme that wouldn’t die. Cheezburger. Fark. Failbook. Runt of the Web. New captions emerge: “Positive Family Interaction,” “On Facebook, Sometimes You Win and Sometimes You Lose,” or, my personal favorite, “A Mom’s Unconditional Love.” The beard meme surfaces often enough that in the past month it’s surfaced at a staff meeting and a nonprofit event in D.C.
So, what lessons can we learn from all this? Like the recent New York Times article on mugshot extortion and editorial on revenge porn, it’s a vivid reminder that images uploaded in any context can persist on the web, and take on nefarious or amusing lives of their own. Secondly, nothing you post to a social network is truly private whatever your settings, so always presume a scenario where your post turns up on your boss’ desk. And finally, parenting is all about compromise: