Saturday, May 13, 2017

Going Personal On Social Media

Another election. Another candidate falls victim to something they posted on social media years ago. We are unlikely to see another candidate go down in this election for the same reason. I am sure those candidates who did not sanitize their Twitter and Facebook feeds before, certainly have now. But this should be a warning to anyone, of any age, on social media, no matter whether you are getting into politics or not. Social media lives on forever and it matters what you post.

When I first entered elected politics in 2004 as a municipal councillor, Facebook and Twitter really didn’t exist in any meaningful way. When I joined social media, I was admonished to keep personal stuff off the internet. It wasn’t secure. It’s been drilled into my head so often that things like marital status and connections to relatives have languished in the “only me” setting until only recently when I made the decision to leave politics. 

Over time I did start talking about my wife and son, but soon, as a provincial cabinet minister, threats against my family resulted in the RCMP advising I remove anything remotely personal. The nature of some of the threats was directly from what I had previously posted about them on Facebook and Twitter. So I sanitized my Facebook account down to an almost dreary account of my political life. Of course, doing that lead to its own set of issues with people who only have personal Facebook and Twitter accounts wondering why you aren’t posting about certain events in your life. But such is the impossible balance of social media.

It’s only since I have chosen to leave elected politics that, for the first time in my life, I feel I can say what I want about my own life outside work without having to worry (or more accurately, care) what others think. My Facebook page is suddenly my own. For the first time since I’ve had one.

I am still, however, mindful that social media is not private. Whatever you post lasts forever in cyber dust, and whether you are in politics or not, what you post can impact your life. The fact is, what happened to Liberal Matt McKnight with old tweets coming back to haunt him could happen to anyone applying for a job. Potential employers sometimes check Twitter feeds and any social media information that is public checking for that drunken photo. And let’s not forget about Dalhousie’s own dentistry scandal in what members believed was a private group.

I feel liberated having what really is now my own Facebook account. I can use Facebook the way so many others do. To talk to friends and family, and share parts of my life I felt I never could before. Yeah it’s liberating, but it’s going to be hard to kick those nagging warnings that have been drilled into me for the past 13 years.