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How to Avoid Social Media Gaffes

Follow these steps—and be relentlessly judicious—to protect your civilian, military careers

Social media is like a bullhorn—everything you say and do is amplified, projected to the entire Internet. There are certain things you shouldn’t announce to the world, of course, but sometimes it’s easy to forget there are people reading. Here are some ways to make sure the things you’re shouting about yourself aren’t going to hurt your reputation, your career or the Guard as a whole.

1. CHECK YOUR SOURCES. If it sounds too good/bad to be true, it probably is/isn’t. If you’re the person who reposts every “viral” video with alien sightings, other fake news and possibly offensive material, you inevitably end up looking ignorant. Sites like Snopes.com can help you figure out if the information you’re seeing is true.

2. WATCH FOR REDIRECTS. It’s generally safe to click on any link you see on Facebook. But once a link takes you off the site, all bets are off. When in doubt, pay attention to the very first part of the URL (the text in your browser’s address bar). If a site looks like Facebook, but the URL has something besides “www.Facebook.com,” be very careful about the information you enter (like your Facebook password, for example).

3. THINK BEFORE YOU LINK. Everything you post says something about you. Just because someone else wrote it doesn’t mean it won’t reflect on you. Some people fall into the trap of posting mildly racist, sexist or otherwise offensive “articles.” But social media is like your office wall—if you wouldn’t hang something potentially offensive there, it doesn’t belong on Facebook, either.

4. DON’T BE PART OF THE SOCIAL MEDIA MOB. In other words, don’t say something on social media that you wouldn’t say in person. Because the Internet provides separation from the people you’re communicating with, it’s easy to get caught up in responding with anger when everyone else is. Just remember that what you say often has real-world consequences. Let your cooler head prevail.

5. ARGUING WITH PEOPLE ON SOCIAL MEDIA IS LIKE MUD-WRESTLING A PIG. It’s not going to get you anywhere—and you end up stinking at the end of it. It’s easy to forget there is a real person on the other end of the disagreement and the entire Internet can “hear” you. Those readers (especially the ones you never hear from) will also make judgments about your character from what you say. Make sure those things reflect the real you and not the “hiding behind a keyboard” you.

6. A LITTLE HUMILITY GOES A LONG WAY. This is going to blow your mind: Every single person on earth thinks they’re right about everything they think. No one walks around thinking they’re wrong about anything—if they did, they wouldn’t have thought the thing in the first place. Realizing that just because you think you are right doesn’t mean you are right will go a long way toward keeping your reputation intact on social media—and in the real world.

7. PROTECT YOUR UNIT’S BRAND. Like it or not, when the civilian community sees your posts, it looks at you as someone representing the military. So think twice about what you say and consider possible consequences before you wear your uniform for your next big profile picture—or in any picture. Photos taken as jokes can quickly turn into scandals. And if you’re going to post comments to open pages, think about the themes and messages the Guard wants people to know and how your opinion can reflect on your unit and the Army overall.

8. KNOW THE CAPABILITIES OF WHAT YOU USE. Understand the social media platform you’re on. For example, if you post a photo, you need to understand where it can be seen and who can see it. Take time to educate yourself on the various settings for your chosen social media.

9. DON’T POST STATUS UPDATES WHILE YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE WORKING. This is such a widespread temptation that even a Major League Baseball player has been called out for it. In June, the Boston Red Sox benched third baseman Pablo Sandoval for using Instagram during a game against the Atlanta Braves. The team has a rule against using cellphones during games. You may not be a pro athlete, but even posting innocuous tweets or Instagram photos while on the job can hurt your standing. Be aware that companies monitor employees’ online activity.

10. DON’T SPILL COMPANY SECRETS—OR NATIONAL SECRETS. Companies aggressively protect  proprietary information like the Pentagon guards its battle plans. Unless sanctioned by your boss, don’t post updates about a company project, the development of a new product or even a marketing strategy. Also, you’ve undoubtedly been reminded of this, but it bears repeating: Don’t divulge sensitive military information such as training or deployment dates, or specific deployment locations. Doing so can put your unit at risk, as well as your family.

11. SLOW DOWN BEFORE POSTING. It’s easy to fire off a tweet and assume that auto-correct will take care of spelling mistakes. But grammatical errors—or even typos—can make you look sloppy and cavalier. Never use profanity or post any off-color or ill-timed jokes, and stay away from quips about death, disaster or race. A customer’s complaint about an offensive tweet could lead to your termination.

12. BE AWARE OF THE INTERNET’S “PERMANENCY.” A regrettable post today could be found a few years from now by a potential employer. Don’t share job interview information. You could tweet yourself right out of an offer. It’s OK to communicate that you’re anticipating a job interview, but don’t get specific. You could alert potential competition about the opening. If you discuss how you think you did in the interview, you might alienate the hiring manager. Not only that, you might tip off your current employer that you’re job hunting if a Facebook discussion among “friends” finds its way back to your supervisor. And don’t post anything about an offer until the new employer assures you that negotiations are no longer confidential.

13. SEPARATE PROFESSIONAL AND PERSONAL SOCIAL NETWORKING ACTIVITIES. Don’t extend Facebook invitations to colleagues or supervisors. Set privacy settings so you’re not in an awkward position concerning an invitation. If you’ve already blended your worlds, exercise caution with your posts to avoid unintended ripple effects. Also realize some sites should have no connection to your employer. If you’re posting personal opinions on Twitter or photographs on Instagram, don’t mention your job. Companies are now creating rules in employee handbooks for social media, and violations can put your job at risk. If you don’t know your company’s policies, ask human resources.

14. DON’T MOCK YOUR CUSTOMERS (OR PEOPLE YOU’RE HELPING ON A GUARD MISSION), AND DON’T COMPLAIN ABOUT YOUR JOB, BOSS OR CO-WORKERS. Keep your cynicism and snarkiness to yourself. Lashing out against those you’ve encountered on a mission reflects poorly on the Guard. And if you’re upset about customers, your words can go viral and quickly damage the business. Instead, tell your supervisor what happened and request suggestions for dealing with difficult clients. It goes without saying that badmouthing fellow employees, fellow Soldiers or supervisors will burn your bridges. In the age of Reddit, retweets and blogging, your words can boomerang and hurt you.


MAKE  SURE YOU’RE SECURE

Many people create social media accounts for fun and don’t think about the importance of security. But as a Guard Soldier, social media security is important for the safety of your unit and family, as well as for maintaining your professionalism and peace of mind in both your civilian and military workplaces.

Here are the Department of Defense’s suggested protective measures:

PASSWORD STRENGTH IS KEY. Set up reminders to change your password every 72 days. Passwords should be either randomly generated or a made-up string of words, and you should have a unique password for each site. Passwords for email accounts should also be different, and each device and computer at home should have its own password. Using a password manager that is integrated into your browser can help protect against phishing attacks. (Look into 1Password at AgileBits.com or try LastPass.com.)

STAY UP TO DATE WITH ANTI-VIRUS SOFTWARE. Your personal devices should be current with patches and upgrades. Monitor your child’s online activity. Children inadvertently introduce malware through gaming sites, so run regular anti-virus scans to catch it.

REVIEW YOUR AUTHORIZED APPLICATIONS. These are connected to Twitter and Facebook, and you’ve given them permission to access your account information. Make sure you recognize all of them. Use the extra layer of security features offered by each social networking site to stay protected.

LOOK BEFORE YOU CLICK. Never hit suspicious links, even if they come from a friend or family member. Report the links to the social media site. Don’t accept “friend” requests from people you don’t know on Facebook. Scammers create fake accounts to gain access to your information. They can put spam on your timeline, and they can also target your real friends and family.