Could Your Social Media History Come Back to Bite You?

Social Media HistoryGetting caught in a social media faux pas seems to be the new normal. The latest? The newly crowned Miss Teen USA, Karly Hay, landed in the hot seat for several alleged racial slurs in tweets she posted in 2013.

Next week, it will be someone else under fire because our fast-moving digital conversational today could carry a fresh context several years from now. And then you’ll have some explaining to do, like Hay who says about her tweets: “Several years ago, I had many personal struggles and found myself in a place that is not representative of who I am as a person.”

Hay’s response is a great place to start the social archives conversation in your family. Your kids are gramming, snapping, tweeting, texting, posting and commenting every single day. In fact, the latest stats on teen social media activity from Pew Research Center reflect that 92% of teens report going online daily — including 24% who say they go online “almost constantly.”

With so much activity, it’s just a matter of math before some questionable content resurfaces and compromises a job, a scholarship, or even a personal relationship.

Old social posts don’t just haunt celebrities; we are all considered public figures in today’s digital culture of 24/7 publishing. Everyone’s online activity is up for scrutiny. Behavior once viewed as nosey or stalker-like is now quite commonplace. Interested in someone? Google them? Want to find out about your suspicious neighbor that just moved in? Yup, google them. Activities such as “trawling,” — digging through someone’s online history to find something negative to use against them — isn’t farfetched. In fact, the media does it every day as a common research practice. If you are an educator, a government employee, a public official, or anyone in a public role, it’s likely your online information could be trawled sooner or later.

Eight tips for smarter posting

1. Vet your content. Ask yourself some key questions: Is there anything in this post or comment that could hurt me in the future? Does this post defame a specific race, religion, or lifestyle? Is this content contributing to the conversation or just noise?shutterstock_356799956

2. Be careful with humor. Not everyone shares your type of humor. Just ask Justine Sacco, a woman with only 170 Twitter followers, who became a headline within three hours when one stupid tweet ruined her life.

3. Don’t pick at it—purge it. No doubt, people change. You may not be the 20-something hot head that began tweeting or blogging nearly a decade ago, but your archives are still out and say otherwise. In her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo takes tidying to a whole new level, some of which we can apply here.  1) Don’t analyze everything and just pair down — purge. 2) Get rid of anything that doesn’t spark joy for you 3) Don’t ask yourself what you like about a photo or post, ask yourself  ‘why should this stay?’ 4) keep only the content that makes you happy or inspires you. Chop everything else.

4. Use Twitter’s advanced search. Some of us have tweeted out several novels-worth of content. Who has time to go through that? Twitter has advanced search features that will help you quickly find questionable tweets. Just go to and enter keywords and phrases, along with your user account name. This search will help isolate tweets that could be compromising.

5. Am I being true to who I am? Most tweens and teens are not asking themselves this question, but we can still encourage our kids to engage in this specific self-reflection. Encourage young publishers to think about what message and image they hope to project to go through their archives with that in mind. Encourage them to review everything about their profiles from their bio to the kinds of movies and books they’ve called out, to their Facebook groups. Ask: Is this still who you are? Are these still the interest you’d like to project?

6. Delete immediately:shutterstock_77171608

  • Inactive social media accounts
  • Provocative or inappropriate photographs, videos, or posts
  • Posts or photos that include drinking or using drugs
  • Discriminatory comments related to race, religion, gender, etc.
  • Content that complains about a previous employer or colleague
  • Posts that are overly cynical, grumpy, or mean

7. Review likes and post privacy settings. Even the posts of others’ (that are marked public) that you like or comment on will show up on Google, which means others could judge you guilty by association. It may be time-consuming, but you can clean up your Facebook ‘like’ history in the Activity Log. If you want to share but still limit who can view your posts, go to privacy settings of that post and change the privacy settings of your current and past posts.

8. Search yourself. Google yourself (also Yahoo and Bing). See what comes up. Be sure to check images, video, news, and more tabs. You just never know what content will make it into remote circles. If you find something surprising, contact the site host and request they remove the content.

Has your past social media ever come back to haunt you? Please share!

ToniTwitterHSToni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @McAfee_Family and @ToniBirdson

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