“Make good choices.” Three simple words of advice and warning anyone can benefit from. Unfortunately, when it comes to social media, people from all walks of life, and all age groups, don’t adhere to advice or common sense.

How is it possible for so many seemingly intelligent people to make incredibly serious, costly, foolish mistakes on social media? I have a few theories.


It can be hard to believe that a person would go on social media and complain about their company or supervisors, but people do it. I believe it isn’t that they don’t know deep down that it’s a mistake. I think in some cases they just can’t stop themselves. At that point, it’s too late. Using social media to vent about problems or displeasure with a company, client, or coworkers is never going to go well, and may cost you your job or reputation. Control those impulses, or pay the price.


Some people have a strange sense of humor, and unfortunately for them, it can cost them their job if they choose to joke about certain topics on social media. The unfortunate thing about humor is what is funny to one person can be terribly offensive, upsetting, or disrespectful to another. Jokes about race, gender, professions, nationalities, and politics are especially volatile and can set off a chain of events that can destroy a person’s reputation and their career.


A lapse in judgment can trigger an avalanche of trouble if someone shares very personal information on social media — especially nude photos of themselves or someone else. Social media is forever. There’s no deleting something once it’s in the public space. Screenshots of tweets, posts, comments, and opinions live on even if they are deleted from a social media account. The irony is that each person has control over what they choose to post, and yet there is no shortage of bad decisions and choices that bring catastrophe and trouble because something inappropriate was shared for everyone to see.


Everyone knows it’s dangerous and illegal to drive under the influence, but sadly, many careers and lives have been wrecked when a person posts to social media while under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Don’t think the excuse, “I was drunk, so I can’t be responsible” will be a way to beat being held responsible for unprofessional or damaging social media posts. There probably won’t be a do-over if the comments or content is seen as unprofessional or damaging. Companies hold employees responsible for the things they say in public, and don’t think the First Amendment will save you if you post rude remarks. You are legally allowed to say those things, but your company can still fire you if they believe an employee’s conduct can negatively impact them or their reputation.


In recent years, more and more companies and government organizations have carefully crafted social media policies, rules, and guidelines for employees. And for good reasons. Without guidelines, mandatory training, and firm policies, the organization can be seen as non-compliant and remiss in its responsibility to tell employees what is out of bounds.

Most responsible organizations, especially the government, have annual mandatory training for employees and contractors, and they won’t give access to the network until those guidelines have been read and signed off on.

The internet is an amazing tool that can educate and enlighten, but it also has the potential to destroy reputations and break the law. Using social media carelessly and foolishly is playing with fire and can severely damage a reputation to the point where no one will consider hiring a person who uses it carelessly.

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Diana M. Rodriguez is a native Washingtonian who works as a professional freelance writer, commentator, and blogger; as well as a public affairs, website content and social media manager for the Department of Defense.