“You Can’t Post That!” and the Future of What We Share on Facebook

If you are over the 30 you have probably said these words out loud or in your head to someone younger thanst thyself,

Don’t post any picture of you drinking and carrying on because someday, a potential employer is going to see it and not want to hire you.

What if I said that I think folks may want to think twice before deleting, untagging or “sending to trash” those unfortunate images of their wild youth? Well, that’s exactly what I’m saying.

Before I begin, let’s get a few things straight.

  • I am not . . . advocating for people to start plastering their social media profiles with pictures showcasing the recklessness with which they may have lived their younger days . . . or older days for that matter. The fact that what we share on the internet can never really be taken back is always a good filter to use.
  • I am not  . . . glorifying or encouraging drinking by the pictures I have chosen to share, but I acknowledge that, along with sexually explicit images, “beer in hand” pics are often the ones that generate the most reactions and admonitions.

So . . . for the love of God, I do not want to check my news stream tomorrow and see any of you in compromising soft porn pics, photos of you engaging in any illegal activity or tags of you acting a fool in ways that truly would make you unhireable by anyone or would embarrass your grandmother.  Because while, I am advocating for a shift in how we approach the sharing of some parts of our lives, I am not advocating a total rejection of social norms and appropriate behavior. As my mother tells her children all the time, “I love you, make good choices.

I still remember seeing the first few pictures of younger folks that I knew – youth group and relatives – as they began documenting their college and young adult life. Yes, I jumped back a little when I saw one or two pics of them at a party, red cup in hand and looking less than study ready. After my initial “they are too young to be out past 9:00” moment, I stepped back to appreciate the gift that it was to be given a window into their lives. If we are going to build strong communities in this social media age, we must treat  social media access with great care, as we add content to the larger story as well as when we peer into the lives of our friends and family.  Tensions about privacy and appropriateness will and should always be there, so let me offer a few thoughts on the changing nature of the “Don’t put that on Facebook” conversation that might help us navigate these new waters a little better.

“Old” people like me might only be right for right now – I realize that this is a slight generalization about age, but for the most part, those who make these overarching decree about social media appropriateness probably come from Generation BFB, Before FaceBook. While we may be offering good advice from the perspective of past and current employment practices at the early stages of using social media to vet candidates, I am not sure that the same counsel will be helpful in the future. Understanding our generational and technological location in this conversation is important because, while most of us will stay firmly rooted where we are, the rest of world will continue to shift and change.

Hiring lenses will eventually change – At some point, the very people whom we have been warning about the evils of beer party picture posting will be in charge of the very hiring practices that so many of us are weary of today. I suspect as this transition happens, potential employers will not be looking for a complete absence of party pictures, but will be more likely to give an understanding “pass” for what they may see because, well, they remember doing the same thing and will not hold it against the applicant. What I suspect they will be looking for is a nuanced approach to how an applicant currently interacts online as well as his/her understanding of appropriateness and privacy. This transition will, no doubt, be a slow one, but just as employment lenses are changing around gender, sexuality, race, etc. the ways future explores will judge a person’s social media life will also take on a more nuanced approach.

Social media shares the fullness of our story – A few years ago, when I standing/running for an office in my denomination someone asked me if I was going to go back and “clean-up” my posts so I would not attract any negative reaction. After first responding, “If I did that then there would be nothing left to read.” I said, “Nope.” There was no way I was going to go back and try to sanitize my blog because, one, it would take too long, and, two, my posts help to tell the fullness of my story: the good, the bad, the unfortunate and the awesome. In fact, if I were to take all of that out, I would look like I was more interested getting elected than being a real person. I think this same kind of shift will begin to happen as we think about employment culture. On LinkedIn, one’s profile should have an unapologetically “Look at me and now hire me!” vibe, but when it comes to Facebook we might want to rethink applying that same strategy. If one’s profile starts to look like a resume, devoid of an individual’s personality, he/she will come across as fake, and in a hyper-cynical culture, this can be a non-starter.  To some extent it has already begun as I have looked up people on Twitter or Facebook to get a glimpse into their life only to find a sterile and empty version of a person who I KNOW has more to them than what they show on their social media profiles. Again, I don’t need to see the intimate details of your life if you don’t care to share, but the whole point of having a social media presence is to let the world know that you are living.

Again, as you think about this for yourself, please do not read this post as any kind of encouragement to vomit images of your wild side all over the interwebs. What I hope this post does, thought, is to gently challenge us to rethink our understanding of what gives people a broader sense of who we are . . . including those times when we have been caught on camera enjoying life with a little flair.  You never know, that picture that at one point would have stopped you from getting hired, might just be the one that gets you the job.

PHOTOS: Much thanks to those who answered my call to offer pictures for this post. Please follow them on Twitter and/or subscribe to their blog as a small reward for their self-exposure.

  • Four guys drinking on the couch – A. Williams – Twitter | Blog
  • Two-fisted beer drinking – Megan Dosher – Twitter
  • A shot and a flamingo – Lauren Gibbs Beadle – Twitter | Blog
  • Drinking from a coconut – Ryan Kemp-PappanTwitter
  • On the floor – Abby King Kaiser  –  Twitter

Unfortunately – and thankfully – most of my borderline youthful behavior took place before the onset of all this social media madness. So unless some of my friends have taken the trouble to turn that film in into digital images, I have no incriminating images to share online.

The best I can do is this one of my stuffing my face food truck shrimp from the back of my sisters’ car during a recent trip to Hawaii.

Not pretty. At. All.


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  • Adam Walker Cleaveland  

    I suppose if I had seen Bruce’s call for photos, I would have sent him some of these links….(which, when they were initially posted, made quite a splash):

    1) http://pomomusings.com/2005/01/28/i-love-seminary/ – Many folks at Princeton while I was there did NOT like this aspect of seminary life made public.

    2) http://pomomusings.com/2006/09/23/i-still-love-seminary/ – Again, this was when I was at Columbia Seminary…and there were folks at that school that got some calls from alumni who saw this photo on Flickr. 

    3) http://pomomusings.com/2005/12/14/life-in-idaho/ – And while these are some great photos of me in Western gear, for awhile, the party of me with margaritas was the #1 photo result you’d get if you googled “partying” (under the images search). Don’t do that now – it’s not safe for work – and I’m down to page 3 now in the search results.

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      Thanks for sharing those. Gotta love the comments. Some seriously skewed understandings of what it means to be a ministry for sure. I wonder what the “haters” would think now as SM has changed.  

  • Edward Dunn  

    These are some good words to consider.  I am reminded of other drinking pictures, particularly ones with the President of the United States sharing a beer with veterans or others.  What I find to be more problematic are the comments that sometimes accompany the pictures, or in a few cases the words without pictures, especially when the words come from a pastor.  

    I have had to call on a few occasions and ask, “Did you really mean what I just read on your FB page?”  

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      Yes, the lines are much fuzzier now that EVERYONE sees the words and pictures. WE all have to make choices about how folks may perceive our person . . . the “how ‘real’ can I be?” question that will always be before us.

  • Matt  

    As one who did not hire people for a summer camp position because of Facebook postings I think that you make some good points. I made it my policy, and still do as a pastor, that I do not initiate “friending” people. If you want your pastor or boss as a friend then great, I won’t turn you down but I think pastors should allow people the choice of whether their pastor becomes their friend.  However, if you do friend your boss or potential boss and then post about how high you got last night and then you think that I have no rational excuse to not hire you as a camp counselor then that’s an unreasonable train of thought. So while I think things can and should  change, common sense remains common sense.

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      Yes, irresponsible behavior is still irresponsible behavior, especially in the context of youth ministry . . . part of the challenge that social media lays before us to be thoughtful about how we use it.

      • Matt  

        I probably have said a thousand times, “thank God they didn’t have digital photography or Facebook when I was in high school or college.”

  • Nick Larson  

    Thanks for sharing this Bruce, and thanks for all those pictures! Here to a better understanding of life shared. The hardest people to convince of this nuanced approach is actually those of us in ministry.

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      Tricky waters for sure and it sure is easier to just say, “Don’t do it.” For the real writer in the family tho, check out lauren’s blog post: http://www.dearestdaughters.com/2011/12/secrets-are-for-suckers.html

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