The golden rule for broadcasters: If you wouldn’t say it on air, don’t tweet it. There have been plenty of examples of well-known people not following this rule.
Chris Packham got in some trouble at work by tweeting his opinions (on his own time) on the beat he covers for BBC. Kanye West made himself look like even more of an ass than usual when he went off on Jimmy Kimmel on Twitter. James Franco almost committed a crime on Instagram.
But journalists and celebrities aren’t the only people who can get themselves in trouble with what they say on social media. That golden rule should really apply to everyone. Social media is a very public space; even if you’re not famous, you can get there quickly (and not in a good way) by making the wrong move on social media.
For example, an Alabama teenager made the news last week for taking a smiling selfie in a Nazi concentration camp. One minute she was a little known small-town teen; then after a poor social media choice, her name was published across the web for reasons no one wants to be internet-famous.
But back to those badly behaving celebrities and journalists. Is it possible for public figures to have freedom on social media? Not completely.
Social media is not a personal journal; actions on social media can have consequences, and being aware of that will help public figures and private individuals avoid them. You can’t just publicly say whatever you want and expect no one to react when you have hundreds or thousands or millions of followers.
With that said, what you can safely say on social media depends on the individual. Gary Vee curses all the time, but that’s just part of his persona. However, Pope Francis would make headlines across the world if he casually dropped an F-bomb.
On a similar note, what journalists can safely say might depend on his or her beat. My news organization doesn’t tell reporters what they can and can’t do with their personal accounts, but I hope that any reporter would realize tweeting strong opinions about a story they cover could compromise their objectivity.
It amazes me that after all the horror stories, people haven’t figured out yet that posting something inappropriate on social media could get you in trouble at work or even land you in the news.