A week removed from the craziest presidential election in modern times, and we continue to feel the aftermath, particularly on social media sites where the avalanche of memes, gifs and rants continues to raise hackles on both sides of the political aisle. Two days ago, I resisted the urge to perform my first "un-friending" on Facebook after receiving an inane reply to one of my posts. Because I strive to be politically tolerant, I have moved past it.
Regardless of who you voted for, and I have close friends on both sides, I think we can agree that many of the election reactions were unfortunate. An official in a West Virginia town was fired for a post-election racist tweet. A Maryland school superintendent was criticized for an allegedly "anti-white" Twitter post. And even Oprah Winfrey caught heat for her online reaction to the first meeting between President Obama and President-Elect Trump.
While the typical person's online reaction to the election may not be vitriolic, we should all be aware that posts made online can remain forever. Sure, your morning-after musings may now be deep in your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram feeds, but they are still there nonetheless - and they can be found via search engines or just a small level of sleuthing. Many of these posts will stay online forever, and I think that many of things being said by folks on both sides will be regretted in the days, weeks and months ahead.
Remember, your posts can be found later when you are being researched for a job, or when you are in the running for a big contract, or even when applying to college. They can have a major impact on your online reputation.
Yes, we all have our constitutional right to freedom of speech, but regardless of who you voted for, nearly half of the country voted for the other candidate. If you said something inflammatory online, you potentially insulted 47 +/- percent of the country. That's 47 percent of possible employers, employees, human resource professionals, college recruiters and customers for your business.
The day after the election, Matt Maloney, the CEO of food delivery company Grubhub, sent an e-mail to employees that was critical of Trump. Some employees inferred that supporters of Trump were not welcome to work at the company anymore, and the e-mail caused a major online backlash. The stock price of publicly traded Grubhub took a temporary dive, and the company was bashed online - including hundreds of negative posts on a prominent online complaint site.
(For what it's worth, I read the e-mail and believe that while CEO's message was ill-advised, poorly timed and overly political, his meaning was likely misconstrued.)
What Maloney failed to grasp was that while he may have found his e-mail empowering or cathartic, it also insulted the portion of his employees who voted for Trump. Even worse, once it was shared, he ended up insulting 47 +/- percent of his customers, too.
So, what's the advice moving forward? Here you go:
- Politics can be incredibly emotional, and it's difficult for any of us to be truly impartial. When in doubt, don't post about it.
- Your e-mails are not private. Once you hit send, you lose custody of your e-mail and any recipient can forward it - to untold numbers of others. The same is true of social media posts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and even Snapchat. It's easy to get around privacy settings.
- It's been a week. Go back and take a look at your social media posts. If you posted anything that has a chance to harm you down the road, delete it.
I'm confident that our country will move past this period of divisiveness, but the online record of it could cause unnecessary damage.
More information and tips for individuals and businesses is available in my new book How to Protect (Or Destroy) Your Reputation Online. (Career Press, 2016)