What You Post On Facebook, Twitter, and Other Social Media WILL Get You In Trouble.
This week I worked with students from Boston University’s Panhel and IFC on next step risk management. Towards the end of our time together, one brother asked me if Facebook posts could be used against them in a judicial hearing. If you read nothing else, know this—what you say/post on social media (or on most internet sites) can absolutely come back to hurt you.
My expertise is in the campus judicial process and in those hearings, the civil and criminal rules of evidence do not apply (which is one reason hiring an attorney makes less sense than hiring us.) This means that hearsay, unverifiable reports, biased testimony, and other evidence not allowed in court are used in judicial hearings. So, as a rule (even though there are some exceptions)—there are no barriers to using what you post in a blog/social media/other site against you in a judicial hearing. In other words, if you post something silly that shows you violating campus policy on the internet you can expect it to come back to bite you. Ask Sigma Chi at Central Florida what happened when this picture surfaced:
The best advice I have to avoid trouble through social media posts is simple—do not do anything that, if recorded, would get you in trouble. However, if you ignore that first part make sure it isn’t recorded. (Most of us with a past of “spotty” decision-making are really happy Facebook wasn’t a thing when we were in college.)
You may be saying “well, duh”, but you would be surprised at the many ways posts and pictures come to the attention of administrators:
- Your social media accounts are not set to “private.” Don’t let a picture show up accidentally when someone is just trying to get in touch with you.
- You have been tagged in a photo or post. People LOVE tagging their friends when they have a photo that could embarrass them. That’s fine, but when you’re tagged it becomes easier to find. Either set your privacy levels to prohibit someone from tagging you or check (regularly and often) to make sure you aren’t.
- Your photo was “shared” with the administration. Off the top of my head I can think of 4 sorority judicial cases and 2 fraternity cases that came from someone sharing photos of them violating party rules, hazing, or committing a recruitment violation. There are many reasons someone might do this, but the point is that if it is brought to your admin or judicial officer’s attention it has to be responded to.
- Parents researched you because they are concerned about their son/daughter. This is especially true just after roommate assignments are made, but it can be true all year. If a pledge has a protective parent you should expect that parent to check out every other pledge’s and every brother/sister’s pages to see what they can find. If they find anything, they’re probably going to share it.
- You are part of a national organization (honor society, NCAA, fraternity, sorority, etc.) and someone from that organization is checking on the members. This is less common, but if you are part of something and thus represent something there is going to be someone who believes you should be upholding the values and reputation of the group you joined and/or someone who resents it.
The good news is that most judicial officers I know do not seek out incriminating photos, and even the ones that might do not try to get past privacy settings or build a case solely on what you put out there. As with most things, the more incriminating your post the more risk you take, so ask yourself if posting it is worth it before doing so.
I leave you with my 5 rules of posting:
- Never post something that embarrasses someone else without his or her express permission. (Yes, this includes that picture of your friend passed out with writing all over him.)
- Assume anything you post will slip out of your control and be seen by more people than you intended. (*cough* Anthony Weiner.)
- Understand what your posts and profiles say about you to anyone who searches you out. In most cases, people do not take the time to get past the impression you chose to give them.
- Never make a decision about what you should post when you’re wasted (or even buzzed.)
- Pretend you’re not you and Google yourself occasionally to see what someone can find. Fix anything you don’t like.
Have you or anyone you know ever been in trouble because of a post they made? Do you have any questions you would like answered? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or post in the comments and let’s talk about it!