Before You Post, Think it Through

picturephone_advI was in the fifth grade when I stumbled across a picture like this one while leafing through our local telephone book. It was an artist’s rendering of phones of the future, the final point on a pictographic timeline. I remember gaping at this bizarre device, trying to visualize a futuristic world in which gadgets like these existed.

Well it’s 2013, and the future has arrived. My kids are growing up with the sci-fi technology I’d only seen on episodes of the Jetsons. It’s shrunk our planet exponentially in the last twenty years. Connecting with folks around the world is now an everyday occurrence, and I’ve certainly taken part through Facebook, Twitter, and blogging.

But engaging in online activities comes with no shortage of pitfalls. It puts us out there and makes us vulnerable. We see it in the news media all the time: public figures behaving badly for all the world to see. And it doesn’t take long for one poor choice to circumnavigate the globe, celebrity or not.

Take the young woman who dressed as a bloody Boston Marathon victim on Halloween. A tasteless costume choice, but her lack of judgment went a step further when she published photos of herself on Instagram and Twitter (Click here to see the article).

The posts went viral and led to an unforeseen level of backlash. Not only has she lost her job, she’s endured threats of violence against herself and her family.

It was hard-earned lesson for this poor girl, yet in it I saw a great reminder for myself, and a teachable moment for my kids. Internet smarts and safety are a common part of school curricula nowadays, but it sometimes takes a real life example to underscore the message.

After showing my girls the article, we discussed the ramifications of careless posting, and what one unthinking, spontaneous moment can lead to.

I’ve tried to accept that I will never know everything my kids are up to online. Navigating these technologies is a learned skill for my generation, but it comes intuitively to the Millennials. They will always be one step ahead of me.

So I monitor as best I can and use my advantage – life experience – to educate them about the downsides.

I knew I’d got through to them when my oldest summarized the takeaway point (edged with snippy teen attitude): “Okay, Mom. I get it. Before you post, think it through.”

Exactly. It’s nice to know that for once, they were listening.

43 responses to “Before You Post, Think it Through

  1. Someone actually dressed as a Boston Marathon victim on Halloween? This is why I rarely go on FB or other social media, or even online “news” sources. I don’t think I’m missing much.

    • Really bad taste, don’t you think? It was a great reminder for me on the importance of watching what I put out there. Not to mention a teachable moment for my kids.

      • Definitely bad taste. But to be fair you do come across just as bad in passing conversation sometimes but then it is not splashed out there across all eternity for everyone to see. People forget how public things are these days, in a moment of stupidity or bravado.

        I’m glad you managed to get this across to your kids.

      • It’s true, Denise. There don’t seem to be many boundaries anymore. It’s a lesson my kids will receive over and over as they grow up.

  2. Good reminder and good example of why not to post without thought.

  3. Like Jpon, I’m not a big user of FB or Twitter, so I didn’t hear about this. There is something seriously wrong with that girl if she thinks that was okay. But then again, she may have known it would go viral and she wanted the attention. Maybe her parents didn’t provide her with teachable moments like you do with your girls, Gwen.

    • I saw this story on Yahoo news. After reading it, I saw the potential in making an example of this girl’s bad choice, especially since my oldest is active on Instagram. Kids often have the know-how without the street smarts, a scary combination.

  4. Excellent post Gwen – a reminder to us all. This comes at a time when a colleague of mine is suffering the naivety of her 16 year old son who broadcast his home address on Facebook. She was away for the weekend, he invited a ‘few’ friends round. Hundreds turned up; the house was trashed and my colleague now has a 20k insurance claim pending.

  5. Good article. As a ‘millenial’ (just) I can say we don’t always know what we’re doing tech wise! Similar thoughts should be considered before posting comments on an article, forum etc. It may not seem like much but how will it be taken? Words hurt even from a stranger miles away. I always say if you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face don’t post it.

    • It’s nice to hear the perspective of a Millennial (even if you ‘just’ qualify ;)) I agree with you — anything we put out there can be misconstrued by a reader. It’s the balance we need to strike between staying connected and doing it in a thoughtful way. Your motto seems to fit. If only more would embrace the same.

  6. It’s great that you taught your kids this. It goes for the blogging world as well. We are what we write and with that may come consequences if we are not careful. Everything must be thought through.

    • I think teaching our kids is an ongoing effort. As humans, we never stop learning, and we all need constant reminders. I like what you say – ‘we are what we write’ – sums it up perfectly.

  7. Gwen
    I agree. We are what we do and often that is writing! We have made astounding progress in technology. I love having everything at my fingertips. The Internet is like having the world’s largest library sitting on my desk. Unfortunately, like so much technology, it’s often misused.
    It puzzles me how attached so many people are to their computers and social networks. Why do people feel this compulsion to post everything that happens-often the moment it happens-online. I grew up, as you did, Pre-Computer. I remember having a black and white TV. I remember dial phones. I try to watch as each new “toy” is introduced and analyze whether it is something I can (1) afford, and (2) really use. If I decide it is really just a toy, I ignore it. I was one of the last people to get a cell phone, but I was one of the first to get a computer and teach myself word processing and page layout because I saw where the world of graphic design and publishing was headed.
    Think before you post. Have a real life-talk to your friends and family in person. Texting is the same as posting online anymore. I have read that it’s wise not to necessarily be the first to jump on change, nor the last to accept it. I don’t know the quote, but it stuck with me and I try to implement it. Think before you post! Great quote-it should be made into a T-shirt, Gwen, and handed out with every computer sale.

    • I think you need to jump on that t-shirt idea, Katie! Like you, I think I fall somewhere in that middle ground. Not the first one to jump on the techie bandwagon, but certainly not one who resists progress and the latest new toy.

      I remember when my husband bought me an iPhone nearly 2 years ago now, and I balked at the gift. It was too much phone for me, I argued. I didn’t need such a fancy device. He told me to take it slow, learn a little something new every day. Having a smartphone would change my life, he promised. And you know what? He was right. I’m not one who buries my nose in it 20 hours a day, but I sure like convenience of it whenever I need it. Hope you’re well, Katie. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  8. Reblogged this on Traces of the Soul and commented:
    Great Post!!!

  9. I feel for our kids in that any dumb thing they do could be videotaped or photographed and live online ‘forever.’ All young people make mistakes (though I think that young woman should have known better to wear that costume–even my youngest son would know that is NOT okay), but now they make them in front of the world. Like you, I try to discuss this with my kids on a regular basis. Luckily, neither one of my teen sons is on social media. They’re not interested in anything other than an occasional text to their friends. Suits me just fine. :)

    • Communicating and educating is definitely key, Carrie. Our kids don’t know any other reality than this fast-paced, high tech world of today, and that can be scary. My young teen is only semi-active on Instagram, and her interest in the platform has waned of late. Like you, I’m fine with it. But making an example of another unfortunate young person will hopefully be knowledge they tuck away for a rainy day.

  10. Great post. The sad part about this is that we don’t have any control over what gets posted about us. I am thinking about the People of Walmark website. Awful pictures of people are posted there. There seems to be no boundaries anymore. Then people make fun of those people. We have all done stupid things or looked stupid. How would we like to be embarrassed like that?

  11. Wise words. BTW, you are one awesome mom if you’re reading Ender’s Game to les enfants.

  12. Gwen, how funny. I have just been covering this with my kids also. We had a specialist from the police force come in to talk to parents at our school about cyber safety and I rushed home deleting most of the apps from my children’s iPhones!!! We’ve since sat down and had big chats and I’ve explained the dangers (including the threat posed by predators) and I’m fairly sure they understand my hasty actions! I really enjoyed this post – it makes the world feel so much smaller knowing that we are all worrying about similar issues :-)

    • Well, you’re proving again that we’re often thinking on the same wavelength, Gemma. I agree – one of the greatest benefits of connecting online is the feeling of community. Maybe you can share some of what you learned from your police force in a blog post sometime. I’d be interested to to see how much information parallels what children on this continent are taught.

  13. Good post and great advice. It’s a little scary how growing up with this technology means you are somehow blind the implications of it. We had a similar event over here with a pair of twin girls who went to a halloween party dressed as the twin towers (I kid you not). Ok, horrific and tasteless decision is bad enough, but then putting pictures online meant they were subject to backlash from the entire world. And you’re not going to jsut be reaching reasonable people who may at worst tell you what an idiot you are. There are scary people out there and we now have access to them all. Or they have access to us. Not to be taken lightly.

  14. Sadly, the internet isn’t always a nice place. There must be plenty of people who put tasteless things on the internet just like that young woman every day, but only the unluckiest of them get picked up and go viral. The internet and the whole concept of “going viral” is volatile and unpredictable.

    “Before You Post, Think It Through” – wise words for any blogger to live by.

    • You raise a good point. It’s difficult to predict what will “go viral.” I’m sure this girl wasn’t the only one who exercised bad judgment on Halloween. Nevertheless, her unfortunate experience was a great reminder for us all.

  15. There is certainly less room for errors of judgement in this era of snap it and post it. The Canadian media is full to bursting these days with the posted follies of Toronto Mayor, Rob Ford (caught on videotape using crack cocaine and ranting on about wanting to kill someone). I notice a much wider tolerance for his behaviour in the opinions voiced by younger people. They are aware of how easily one can be caught, via pictures and videos, doing something that lacks common sense and they seem to make more excuses for the behaviour because of that. It is an interesting era young people are growing up in, for sure. Full of new parenting challenges – as if the job wasn’t hard enough already – right? Great post, as usual.

    • Hi Fran, thanks. I agree there are no shortage of challenges in parenting the Millennials. There’s so much we have to be aware of, and it’s scary when the kids have the advantage, as they do with navigating the Internet and technology. I hadn’t heard about Toronto’s mayor here in the States, but it reminded me of a similar incident with D.C.’s mayor back in the 90s. He was caught on tape doing crack in a hotel room with hookers. The video went viral even before such a phenomenon was common. What’s even more amazing was, the guy was re-elected. Maybe as you say, the younger generation is more tolerant of these crazy shenanigans.

  16. A very important lesson. But I think it is also important to point out that threatening to kill someone because they upset you with their tasteless and insensitive and shameful halloween costume is not an acceptable response.

    • Great point, Kourtney. I think the woman’s intentions were benign enough, but you’re absolutely right. A bad costume choice certainly doesn’t warrant a death threat. Perhaps it underscores even more the importance of stopping to think before posting.

      • Thanks. Both sides made poor choices. There seems to be an bizarre world online where people think rape and death threats are an acceptable way of expressing disagreement. If you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, it probably shouldn’t be said online. I think the same could be applied to her costume choice. Would she wear it in front of survivors of the marathon attack? Probably not.

  17. The world was definitely smaller when I was younger. And foolish or thoughtless actions often went unnoticed or were seen by only a few others. Now, they can haunt a person for life and ruin career prospects. I hope all parents today are being as responsible as you are in helping their children see the dangers of careless posts.

    • I think educating the kids is an ongoing process. If I’ve learned anything about learning from being in the teaching profession, repetition is key. Incidentally, my sister is entering the job market after nearly a decade of college, but first she had to deal with social media and the years and years of thoughtless, immature posting. She deleted some accounts and changed her name on others. I have no idea if this works, or to what the degree the permanence of posting something really is. I suppose we’ll find out.

  18. I was so horrified when I read that story about the girl dressing as a Boston Bombing victim… I’m glad you used it as a teachable moment for your kids– we could definitely all stand to gain some discretion before hitting “publish” or “send” online.

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