I want to tell you a little story about the dumbest, most embarrassing thing I ever did. You see, I was a young, impressionable teenager and I thought it would be "cool" if........
Whoa! Hold on a second. Why would I do that? There are like three people on the planet who even know that story (all sworn to secrecy!) and there is no remaining "evidence." Lucky me!
You know who is not so lucky? Your child. Why? Because they live in the age of social media.
Social media has changed the virtual and physical landscape in many ways. It has given today's consumers a collective "voice" in the marketplace and connected vast quantities and different types of people around the globe in remarkable ways. It has facilitated tyrannical government overthrows and been used as a teaching tool in forward-thinking schools in Singapore. However, there are also more than a few stories about social media negatively affecting people's lives.
You need to know one thing, though. Content distributed on the Internet lives forever and social media has dramatically increased the amount of "personal" content being created and shared, sometimes virally.
What do I mean when I say it "lives forever"? I mean that once you hit the "send", "enter", "post" or "update" button on a social media site, you can no longer control who sees that picture, post, editorial comment or crazy video. It belongs to the free world, even if you instantly have remorse and try to recall, delete or otherwise eliminate it. Here are a couple of "did you knows" to make my point.
Did you know that the US Library of Congress has archived every "tweet" ever "tweeted" on Twitter (say that 3 times fast), all 170 billion, and that they are providing access to that information to researchers and other interested parties?
Did you know that there are companies that have created technology specifically designed to capture information supposedly "deleted" from the internet. One company, Undetweetable, made it possible to view deleted tweets from any Twitter user simply by putting in their user name. The site caused a tremendous uproar and was soon shut down (and probably sued multiple times). Another, Politwoops, does the same thing, but for politicians and is still active. Add sites like these to the multiple search engines sharing the same content, cache copies and downloaded content and you can see just how impossible it is to truly wipe something out.
So, let's bring this back to the potential negative impact on our children. When you are done reading this, go to YouTube and search for "teens doing stupid stuff", or any combination of words including "teens" and "stupid." Watch a few videos and get a flavor for the lunacy and shenanigans happening there. Some of it is really hilarious. Now, imagine for a second that the "stupid teen" you are watching is your child. Less funny, right? Now, imagine your child, the one you raised to be a fine and upstanding citizen, the one you spent $200,000 putting through college, is interviewing for their dream job and the person talking with them starts the interview by playing the video and asking your child to explain themselves. Now it's not funny at all, right?
An organization called On Device Research surveyed 6,000, 16- to 34-year-olds across 6 countries and found that more than 10 percent reported that they had been turned down for a job because of pictures or comments on their online/social media presence. At a recent speech, Google's Executive Chairman, Eric Schmidt, a guy whose opinion matters, said that "he believes that the online world has gone too far by forcing teens to never forget."
So, the question becomes what should you do to keep your child from having this problem in their future? You should educate them - now. You should explain that there are potentially serious consequences to sharing their entire lives on social media and discuss the value of privacy and acting appropriately, whether it is in the schoolyard or on the virtual playground. Hopefully, they get the message, internalize it and become self-regulating. If not, set rules and monitor them the same way you do many other things that are unsafe for your children. There are reasons why we do not let 11-year-olds drive. Most of them have to deal with safety and the potentially devastating long-term effects of a car crash. Social media has the potential to be a similarly devastating virtual car crash to your child's professional future.
Follow Kim Garst on Twitter: www.twitter.com/kimgarst