One post on social media can have a big impact on someone’s life. In a single tweet, Snapchat, post or message, students can create consequences that will affect their friends and family, future job prospects and their standing in school.
Some student organizations very briefly mention some unwritten rules of social media use. The main point: Be careful what you share on social media. But that’s not enough. This warning is one that should be heard by all students on campus. After the posting of a racist Snapchat story that involved three girls in Alpha Phi this month, students have seen firsthand how actions on social media can reflect back on an individual and on an organization. While this is an extreme example, it is one that should make students aware of the dangers of social media. Alpha Phi and GW are facing national attention over the post, forcing University President Thomas LeBlanc to publicly state that the post was “offensive” and didn’t align with GW’s values of inclusivity. He then announced that the University would implement mandatory diversity training in the fall for incoming students, following public calls to make campus more inclusive. Diversity training should help to end the unacceptable problem of racism on campus, but it’s also important to pay attention to social media and give it a training of its own.
Requiring social media training might prevent something offensive and hurtful from ever being posted.
There are many ways to make mistakes on social media, and sometimes it’s not as obviously wrong as a racist remark. Sometimes, we don’t know something we’re posting is problematic. We all need to use common sense about what we post on social media. Offensive comments or posts that would turn off potential employers should be avoided. These posts could come back to bite us, our University and the student organizations we’ve joined. According to one survey conducted by YouGov, 57 percent of Americans have posted something on social media that they later regretted sending. Considering this, GW must make social media training mandatory for incoming students during Colonial Inauguration, which will be geared toward preventing common mistakes that may hurt students in school or in the job market.
GW’s training should take place for all incoming freshmen in one in-person session at CI, and should involve talks from employers, hiring managers and professors on how they use social media and how it impacts their view of a student. In addition, incoming students need to learn how to identify a post that could be considered offensive and should learn how to reword it.
Requiring social media training might prevent something offensive and hurtful from ever being posted. Having racist, sexist and other bigoted thoughts – or behaving in discriminatory ways – is clearly unacceptable, but it’s even worse when it’s posted for everyone to see. This also goes for personal attacks against others, inflammatory statements about faculty or family or complaints about employers. For example, I once made an Instagram post during my freshman year of high school joking about firing a teacher, which offended that teacher and many others. There are many things that can be said on social media that could hurt someone, so students must put themselves in others’ shoes before they hit the post button.
Further, social media training would put students at an advantage. Most of GW’s 12 peer schools do not require any form of social media training, except for the University of Southern California, which requires training for student-athletes. But all students – not just athletes – need to learn how to deal with the increased exposure that comes from social media. Current college students are the generation that uses social media more than any other demographic, and employers increasingly consider social media history when hiring. Jobs and internships don’t want to see inappropriate social media posts. Employers are obviously concerned by posts advertising drug use or bigotry, but students rarely consider what employers may think of a post that reflects poor work ethic or a negative attitude.
Social media training should also clearly outline values the University expects students to uphold, including a clear and strict ban on all hate speech. In addition, the University should discuss consequences of hate speech on social media that students can face, such as suspension and generally hurting their friends, family and student organizations. Another goal of the training must be to encourage students to know that social media is never private, regardless of one’s privacy settings. For instance, setting your Twitter account on private can’t prevent screenshots of your tweets from appearing elsewhere.
We need to remember that words have consequences, and posting them on social media could be even worse than saying them out loud.
If it isn’t enough that the University would prevent students from making a mistake that negatively impacts their future, and the well-being of other students, then GW should consider its own reputation. Unless students are confronted about poor social media habits, abhorrent and ignorant posts will happen again. These posts are often reflected back upon the students’ universities. Recently, the University of Alabama faced blowback for a racist video posted by a student, Harvard University rescinded acceptances from 10 students for making inappropriate posts and a Georgia State student-athlete withdrew from school after making a racist Instagram post.
GW can prevent the scrutiny that comes with students making inappropriate and offensive posts by influencing them to make the right choices early on. But this doesn’t just fall on the University. As students, we must do better. We need to be aware of our audiences on social media and understand that private settings can’t ensure that we’ll be shielded from criticism. Most importantly, we need to remember that words have consequences, and posting them on social media could be even worse than saying them out loud.
Kiran Hoeffner-Shah, a freshman majoring in political science, is a Hatchet opinions writer.
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