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Itíll never go away

A relative once told me, when I was a child, ďit is always better to think before you speak, than to speak before you think.Ē

It was true then and it’s true now but maybe it needs to be modified? It is better to think before you post, than to post before you think. Substitute the word “tweet” for “post” if Twitter is your preferred social media platform.

The problem with communication these days is that so much of it is done online. Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with online communication. In fact, I think it’s one of the greatest developments in modern history. The ease with which we can converse, keep in touch with friends and relatives in faraway places, do business internationally and inform ourselves of global and local developments is wonderful. But it comes at a price.

Let’s take the example of Facebook. Much as I love Facebook and the way it allows us to communicate, learn and share information, Facebook is scary. It’s like a bar on a Friday night. Like most people in a bar, people on Facebook are a little noisier than in normal life, a lot more affectionate and flirty, a lot more likely to make fools of themselves and feel deep remorse the following morning. Also, there seems to be something about Facebook that produces a reaction in some people like a minority have to alcohol when they’re in a bar. They turn nasty. Most of us who’ve spent time in bars on Friday nights will have known someone who in normal life is the nicest, gentlest, kindest of characters but when they have their third drink, they turn into psychopathic monsters desperate to pick a fight. The same thing happens on Facebook. Nice people can turn nasty as soon as that blue and white screen appears, asking you to share “What’s on your mind?” Another problem with Facebook and the internet in general is that everything you post is permanent. It doesn’t matter how quickly you delete the comment you posted that you realised was offensive or stupid, you can be certain that someone, somewhere will have taken a screen shot of it and either saved it or reposted it. You should always assume that everything you ever post on Facebook or elsewhere on the internet will be discoverable for the rest of human history.

Unfortunately, not every person or organisation understands this. I know of several individuals who have either been forced, or decided of their own volition, to leave Facebook completely after they posted something they later regretted. One young woman contacted us for advice when the rather embarrassing, very revealing picture she posted in what she thought was a private place on the internet turned out to be very public. Everyone who knows her now knows a great deal about her tattoos and where they can be found. All of them.

Another, much less sympathetically, posted a comment in our Facebook group that included “the K word”. Given that the person posting it was a white South African, not someone using the word ironically or in some way “reclaiming” the word, you can imagine

how inappropriate it was. The firestorm that erupted was astonishing. By the time I’d seen the post, there were three hundred subsequent comments from other members of the group expressing their outrage. When the woman who had caused all the offence later apologised, she got more than 500 responses, not all of them sympathetic and supportive. Even though I deleted the post because of the rage it had caused, the bad news for the person who posted this inflammatory message is that it’s never going to go away. I know many members of the group took screenshots of the offending post and I took screenshots of every comment that was made, in case the issue ever reappears.

More recently we’ve seen a restaurant, just a matter of days after the tragedy at the National Stadium when a young woman was crushed to death and scores of people were injured, post an invitation to their restaurant to “everyone who managed to survive GIMC”. However, and to their credit, the management of the restaurant very quickly published a profound apology for the bad taste and promised that “an issue of this nature will never occur again”. But some damage was done and it will take a while for their reputation to fully recover.

Another example of how social media can escalate an issue out of control is when the leadership of a private school sent out advice on the school’s uniform code. This included various instructions on the length of skirts, shirts being tucked in and regarding the tidiness of hair, the words “No afros are allowed”.

Once most of us calmed down I think we could imagine what the principal of the school MEANT to say, probably something about length and tidiness but that’s not what DID say. He said that afros were banned. And that’s when Facebook as well as the conventional media exploded. But there’s a difference between the two channels that’s important to understand. I bet you don’t have a copy of the newspaper articles covered the story, do you? But the story is still available online and on Facebook and it always will be. Nothing online is ever lost. Not ever. Even when you delete it, someone somewhere will have a copy. A copy that will last forever.

The lessons are simple, but they are nevertheless serious. Don’t post things on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat. Just don’t. Not until you’ve engaged your brain, checked that you haven’t consumed too much caffeine or alcohol, and that you’re not feeling over-excited, angry, depressed, excessively “romantic” or outraged. And then again, even after you’ve typed your message, take another moment before you press Post. Ask yourself what you might think of your post on Monday morning when you get to work. Ask yourself what your boss, your mother or your children would think about the comment you posted.

And then think again. Do you really want this post to remain associated with your name for the rest of your life?

Consumer Watchdog



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