Faced on Facebook: Unintended Consequences of Social Media

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My friend, whom I love dearly, believes she is the most unphotogenic person in the world. I beg to differ and when I tell her so, I offer up my own photographic evidence. It matters not; she scurries away when a camera is in sight and went so far as to vet her best friend’s wedding photos to ensure that only the best photos made it onto a photo-sharing website. Last week, my friend was very upset with me.

“Did you post a picture of me on Facebook!?,” she wrote in a text message.

“Yes,” I responded, “It’s the one of you walking on the beach with your back to the camera. I showed it to you and said it looked like an album cover.”

I sent the offending photo to my friend’s cellphone, she was satisfied and the photo stayed up. The incident didn’t end there, however.

My friend does not have a Facebook account, so I knew that it was someone else who told her about the photo. I had just accepted a “friend request” from one of her friends, so identifying the culprit wasn’t hard. This other friend is someone I’ve actually never met, so I quietly “de-friended” her, thinking she’d get the message and leave it at that. Big mistake.

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The de-friended woman was very upset with my decision. She called my friend to complain and then posted a note about it so that her large network of contacts could know just what I had done. Mutual friends of mine passed the note on, including a reporter and a business contact, both of whom found the whole incident very funny.

If this reminds of you junior high school, I don’t blame you. Despite the fact that everyone involved in this little escapade is thirty or older, we got sucked into an online world of slights, complaints and soul-bearing. I personally found it all very distasteful – from my friend’s friend going through my photos and telling other people about them to the reporter and business contact gleefully forwarding a rant about how I “dissed” someone.

Facebook and similar properties are fun. Through Facebook, I’ve reconnected with high school classmates and former co-workers, been turned on to an acquaintance’s handmade clothing business, scored free concert tickets and engaged in a three-month long Scrabble battle against someone I haven’t seen in person in over a decade. The problem is that Facebook shines a light into your world, and despite privacy controls, you sometimes don’t know who you’re allowing into that world. My friend Josh learned this last week.

Josh is a good guy, but an emotional guy. He runs a retail business and he, like many others, is struggling now. Josh had to lay off his entire workforce last week, and after he had done so he posted something about it on Facebook. People began responding to Josh’s comment, which apparently opened the door for everyone connected to the responders to see what Josh had said. One of those ancillary connections was a reporter who contacted Josh about writing a story about his business, something that freaked Josh out.

“I don’t want people to know that my business is failing,” he told me.

“Then why did you post about it on Facebook?” I asked.

“I thought only my friends would see it,” Josh replied.

Josh and I learned the hard way that privacy is not a given. Offhand comments can turn into controversy, and seemingly meaningless actions can tarnish your image. These issues ripple through your personal life and into your business life. Part of being in business – even if you’re an employer of a large company – is presenting a certain image to the public. It’s important to remember that your actions, even in what you think is a private online forum, can impact that image.

This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (https://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (https://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: https://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.

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