The Downside Of Social Media

Not too long ago, I wrote about the social media guidelines that I give to my coaching staff.  Within that post, I included some links to various websites pushing information to kids warning about the dangers of using their social media accounts.  Multiple sources continue to try drowning our kids in the message that their social media accounts could be the difference between getting an opportunity to continue competing or hanging up their careers after high school.

Back around Christmas, one of my buddies in the coaching field (Thanks, DW!) posted this news story further discussing the potential consequences of poor choices on social media.  Along with some brief history about the world of social media, there are a handful of examples of inappropriate usage of various sites.  The college coach interviewed for this article is also open about admitting that he searches recruits’ accounts to see what kind of presence they have online.  As I had mentioned in my first article, this is becoming a common theme during the recruitment of high school athletes.  More and more, college coaches are able to learn whether an athlete might embarrass the program simply by researching an athlete’s activity on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other sites.

One of the more valuable pieces of that news story is the quick summary of some social media guidelines for athletes that were originally posted by Michael Gaio, now the marketing director for Athletic Business, in 2013.  Included in those guidelines is a list of social media “Don’ts” for athletes.  Gaio also includes a list of “Dos”, but in this case, I think it’s more important to impress upon our athletes the type of behavior adults don’t want to see.  Here’s Gaio’s list:

  1. [Social media] is a tool, not a toy.
  2. Nothing is truly private…ever.
  3. If you retweet it (or share it), you own it.
  4. Personal branding: every tweet reflects who you are.

The 1st reminder is very similar to something I talk to my coaches about: as a teacher/coach, they aren’t allowed all of the liberties that “normal” people are allowed.  Simply put, just as teachers and coaches are held to higher standards by the public, so are athletes.  Twitter and Instagram (and Kik and Snapchat and Yik Yak and WhatsApp and ooVoo and Tumblr and Vine and any number of new apps that I’m probably too old to know about yet) are a lot of fun for kids, so they are understandably viewed as toys.  The difference between our athletes and the majority of other students in school is that too many other kids have nothing (or little) to lose by acting like knuckleheads on social media.  Our athletes – like our teachers/coaches – need to understand that more is expected of them in all aspects of their lives.  Is that fair?  In my opinion, no, but that’s how it is.  Also in my opinion, being held to that higher standard is worth the positive exposure and accolades that come with being an athlete.

I do think that the 2nd reminder is slowly becoming better understood.  I remember having to research social media instances a few years ago and being absolutely amazed at what kids were posting on Facebook.  We would hear accusations against kids, and it would take very little time at all to find proof of various actions posted online.  In the past few years, I’ve found that kids have become smarter about protecting their accounts and – more importantly – not posting dumb stuff online.  Kids do dumb things; they’re kids, so it’s what they do (as we did when we were kids).  The informational piece that we have to cram into their heads is that everything online is public regardless of how protected they think it is.  It only takes one share, one re-tweet, one comment, one screenshot, one picture from another phone, etc. for anything online to make its way from person to person (to person to person to person…).

Most social media apps have an easy button for sharing other people’s thoughts and words.  Too many of our kids (and, quite frankly, our adults) think that sharing someone else’s information is nothing more than showing support for that person.  Kids still need to understand that once their name is associated with any post, they become a part of that post.  We all know a kid’s automatic response when their feet are held to the fire for something they’ve said: “Freedom of speech!”  Gaio includes a comment in his blog that has become a common place statement among educators dealing with social media usage now: Freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequence.

The 4th reminder listed by Gaio is an excellent summation of everything.  Your social media presence is who you are – many times, it’s who you are long before people meet you and have the ability to find out who you really are.  Your personal brand is being built one post and one tweet at a time.  College coaches will avoid kids because of the way they’ve branded themselves online just like employers will avoid potential employees for the same.

Those are all good reminders; we just need to continue educating our kids about the right ways to use social media.  The faster they learn how to maturely and appropriately brand themselves on social media, the closer we are to teaching them how to be productive adults someday.

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