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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

by Michelle Gagnon

Clare's excellent post on Monday discussed what not to blog about. I thought I'd add an addendum to that, based on something I read recently about employers Googling prospective employees and checking their Twitter and Facebook feeds. It got me thinking about crafting an online persona, and how the list of "do's" and "don'ts" is basically the same as our family's Thanksgiving dinner table commandments.

I don't know about you, but we have a wide and varied mix of relatives huddled around the turkey every year. There are aunts and uncles who define themselves as Tea Partiers, liberal cousins who spent a significant chunk of the past few months hunkering down at various Occupy demonstrations, and everything in between. To maintain the peace and insure that stuffing doesn't start flying across the table, we established these groundrules:
  1. No discussion of politics. This includes snide and offhand references, thinly veiled metaphors, and oblique asides. I realize that at times, this can be a tough rule to follow. After all, we are in the middle of a run up to a major election, and the national discourse has become increasingly polarized. But based on past experience, finding a middle ground for a free exchange of ideas is challenging when everyone has had a couple tumblers full of Aunt Millicent's Magic Punch. Not everyone might agree with me on this, but I feel the same way about posting on social networks--staking out a soapbox can lose readers, which as an author is not a good thing. Even if you aren't a writer, do you really want a future boss to reconsider hiring you based on the fact that your political views diverge? If you just can't resist reposting that link to the latest outrageous act by Congress/police/protestors, do what I do and set up a separate, private Facebook account that is limited to people you actually know and trust (of course, those constantly changing privacy settings still make this a potential minefield, so proceed with caution).
  2. Ditto for religion. I respect the right of everyone sharing my cranberry sauce to worship whom or whatever they want. But things tend to get sticky (no pun intended) when you try to explain to Grandpa that he's been wrong all these years, and the true savior is Lord Zod. Again, this is the sort of thing you can put on a private page, if you feel so inclined. But this is another hot button issue that could alienate more followers than you end up gaining.
  3. Swearing. Don't do it. I have a friend (in real life, and on Facebook and Twitter) who has been known to put sailors and truckers to shame under the right circumstances. This same friend will instant unfollow anyone who uses offensive language in a post. There's an impact to words in print that shouldn't be underrated. And really, it's generally unnecessary. You can always resort to $%#^&.
  4. Embarrassing Stories. The worst part of social networking is that these can be accompanied by actual photographic evidence of said embarrassing moments, which is always the kiss of death. So if you wouldn't tell your five year old nephew about spending the weekend passed out on the floor of a train station, why would you broadcast it to the world?
  5. Cats. Okay, this one isn't necessarily on our Thanksgiving tablets, but I've learned the hard way that any negative comment about felines will result in an instant loss of roughly 5% of your followers. It's true--try it if you don't believe me. So I call this the "Rita Mae Brown" rule. Be nice to the kitties online. You don't need to go so far as posting adorable photos/videos of them, but it's also a bad idea to share one of a cat falling out a window.

In a world where we live increasing portions of our private lives online, the line between what gets shared and what doesn't has become blurred. It's remarkable that some people tell utter strangers tidbits about their inner thoughts and prejudices that they probably wouldn't share with close friends. Many people mistakenly believe in the illusion of anonymity, assuming that a post about the awful mistake you made last night will soon be forgotten. The truth is, years from now that same nugget could be unearthed, with embarrassing consequences.

Just for fun, here's Stephen Colbert's take on it. Happy Thanksgiving.

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