dilemma this way: "Social media is here to stay, and foolish is here to stay."
Such was the case in Steubenville. Alexandria Goddard, a 45-year-old Web analyst and former Steubenville resident, focused attention on the case by digging up photos and texts sent on the night of the attack.
"It is one thing to hear the rumors, but I think when people actually saw the tweets, and the vile things that were said, with their own eyes, it really drove home just how disgusting the behavior of these kids was," she wrote in her blog this week.
The texts introduced at the trial included those in which one of the students, Trent Mays, admitted to penetrating the girl with his hand. In other messages, he told friends he'd participated in a different, mutual sex act with the girl. He also sent messages to friends asking them to cover up what happened. In one text he asked, "Just say she came to your house and passed out."
POLITICAL CAREER IMPLODES
The great social media cautionary tale is Anthony Weiner's. The sharp, articulate Democratic congressman from Brooklyn was on his way to becoming mayor of New York City until two years ago when he accidentally used his public Twitter feed (as opposed to a direct message) to send a female Twitter follower (other than his wife) a link to a photograph of his bulging underwear.
Weiner has lots of company.
Some online mistakes are merely embarrassing, like last September when actress Alison Pill of HBO's The Newsroom posted a topless photo intended for her boyfriend's eyes, to her Twitter account.
Some are costly. Comedian Gilbert Gottfried was the voice of the Aflac duck in commercials until he tweeted a tasteless joke about the Japanese tsunami on Twitter. Japan accounts for the majority of Aflac's business.
Some are final. Actress Nicole Crowther, an extra on the TV series Glee, tweeted some plot spoilers two years ago, to which producer Brad Falchuk tweeted, "Hope you're qualified to do something besides work in entertainment."
Sports figures feature prominently in the Twitter doghouse. They include former Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, who was suspended for two games after tweeting protests about an umpire who threw him out of a game.
But Guillen shows you don't need Twitter to put your foot in it. He has also done it the old-fashioned way, calling then-Chicago Sun-Times columnist Jay Mariotti a gay slur, defending illegal immigration on the basis that Americans are "lazy;" and saying he loves Fidel Castro -- a comment in an interview with Time that got him suspended for five games.
LEGAL ISSUES ARISE
Sometimes tweeters have the law on their side.
This week three Indiana girls whose Facebook posts last year, featuring smiley faces and "LOLs," discussed which classmates they'd like to kill, reached a settlement with the school district that expelled them.
The girls, who were ousted in eighth grade, returned to Griffith Public Schools for their freshman year of high school last fall. They said they were joking.
The posts were made after school on the girls' personal electronic devices and were visible only to those whom the girls had allowed access. The terms of the settlement were not disclosed.
The Supreme Court has generally ruled that students have free-speech rights, and schools can prohibit their speech only if it is vulgar or disruptive to schoolwork or other people. The lawsuit says the posts did not cause any disruption at school.
Kerpen says one group does seem to have taken the warnings to heart: politicians. "Anthony Weiner scared a lot of them," he says. "Some of them still won't use Twitter themselves."
RULES TO LIVE BY
The better idea, Kerpen says, is to know what you're doing online.
To that end, here are two rules for protecting your online reputation:
1. When online, you're your own PR person.
Rubel, the Edelman strategist, offers this free advice: When online -- Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, whatever -- "You need to realize that your image is shaped by what you share."
Actually, he says, many people get this, if only subconsciously; what they share is designed to make themselves look good, especially among peers. The problem, he says, is "some people are not self-aware" and don't consider non-peers.
One result: The office worker who, having called in sick, posts to Facebook a photo of himself drinking beer out of a barrel-size red plastic cup.
Another result: Tweeters who think they're tweeting only to confidants but wind up on the Twitter account @YesYoureRacist, which is designed to out racist tweets.
2. What would Mom say?
Kerpen's rule: "Tweet and post nothing you wouldn't want your mother to see."
"If mom doesn't mind that you're a racist or an idiot or an exhibitionist, go ahead," he says.
And don't be lulled into a sense of complacency by Twitter's 140-character format, which can seem so quick and easy -- and be so costly. A woman named Connor Riley, upon receiving an offer from Cisco in 2009, tweeted: "Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work." Unfortunately, someone at Cisco was reading.
What social media may need is a credible, recognizable spokesman for online sensibility, someone like Smokey the Bear: "Only you can prevent cyberflubs!"
Perhaps Anthony Weiner is available.
Contributing: The Associated Press
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