Who would’ve thought it? Social media monitoring has reached one of the popular organizations in the world—the NFL. Only days after the NFL Combine, the Minnesota Vikings revealed that they flagged eight draft prospects for their social media content. It makes sense. The NFL is a league that has proactively taken steps to improve its brand by demanding more socially acceptable behavior of its key employees—the players. It is clear that young men who most likely thought they were impervious to social media monitoring are finding out they are not.
I worry about our young people when it comes to social media. I can only shake my head at what I see from our young people, particularly those of color. So many don’t realize they are stuck in a vortex of pride which causes them to misuse social media. We have all learned that abusing social media is like abusing a weapon, and we have to continue to teach young people better. Here are five major lessons to teach:
- Social media reveals who you really are. It’s ironic. I have personally met high school and college students who come across as polished and professional only to see all of that nullified by excessive use of the n-word, f-bombs, mf-bombs, b-bombs, and other bombs in social media. Let’s not even talk about the insistence on posting middle finger "selfies" and using vernacular to look among the coolest on the social media landscape.
- Bad vibes attract the wrong people. Some view social media as a gateway to instant celebrity, making them legends in their own minds. In order to reach social media celebrity status, too many young people post content with the intent of getting more likes, followers, or “friends”. One thing that 25 years in mass media taught me is America’s morbid nature makes cynical people the most popular. For so many young people, it is more worth it to become social media celebrities than it is to present themselves with dignity and humility.
- People of influence are always watching. For my presentation “TMI: Turning Bad Social Media Choices Into Career Success”, I collect the names of some students who will be in attendance. I choose ten to look up online and I post their content on a big screen often to the cries of “You’re invading my privacy!” or “You’re being unfair!” My response is “I thought you wanted everyone to see since you posted it.” In one presentation, I even caught an n-word post by a college senior who bragged she would be graduating soon. As a job recruiting consultant, I made it clear to the audience that I would pass on her résumé if I ever saw it.
- Violence as a result of misuse of social media is more common and not normal. A long time ago a friend of mine told me I was insane when I said people view a computer or a smart phone as an intimate space rather than a mass communication device. Years later he realized what I meant when news of social media-influenced physical confrontations and even deathly encounters started to hit news outlets. Our young people still have trouble understanding that a social media post, while it appears on a single device, reaches scores of people; and the most offensive posts cause highly emotional reactions. With the popularity of “girl fights”, I often wonder if anyone bothers to show these young ladies what they look like and talk to them about how abnormal these behaviors are after these shameful confrontations.
- Social media is often used to uplift others. I love it when young people use social media to celebrate others and humbly celebrate themselves. They wisely use social media as living, breathing résumés by posting good news about their academic accomplishments, images of their volunteer work, or kudos to members of their organizations or teams. These young leaders realize that others are watching and being social media celebrities is overrated. They have also paid attention to the results of harmful encounters that have arisen from social media, and have chosen to learn from them. Whatever the case, these young leaders have learned the value of using social media to be a strong, positive voice.