Perhaps eyes are not the windows to your soul. Perhaps it’s social media.

My last blog post talked about an unsettling level of harsh words and hatred expressed on social media by thousands of people in posts that were based on misinformation. My post reinforced the need for users to demonstrate media literacy and critical thinking skills. If they did, it might stem the proliferation of false information and put some manners on cyberbullies.

Since I observed that brutal (and misdirected) online attack, I mused to a friend how interesting it would be to have a reality television show that asked contestants to match social media profiles with users. I think there would be more surprises on my show than Jerry Springer has ever seen.

Recent experiences made me think about people’s impressions of me if they were to solely base their opinions on my social media activity. For example, if you were to read my social media posts, you’d learn that:

  1. Public health issues are important to me.
  2. I’m proud of the schools I’ve attended, and I continue to support all of my alma maters.
  3. Last week, I made a donation to Marywood University’s Annual Giving Day.
  4. In March, I defended my dissertation.
  5. I’ve spoken at several conferences during the last year.
  6. I’m still angry at Ticketmaster because I was unable get tickets for U2.
  7. I refer to the Rolling Stones as “my boys.”
  8. Ireland is one of my favorite places.
  9. Thanks to the Fulbright program, I now have friends all over the world.
  10. I am a strong, vocal supporter of libraries.
  11. I am a staunch defender of proper grammar and spelling.
  12. I love books, home decorating, and books about home decorating.
  13. I enjoy traveling, kayaking, cultural events, cooking/baking, movies, and family time.
  14. I choose to keep my personal life private, and I use social media to connect with others on a professional and/or friendly level.

What would I learn if I were to read all of your posts?

This may be a critical question for some people, as the content of your social media activity may affect your job or your future (or both). Last June, at least 10 students who were admitted to Harvard University had their acceptance offers rescinded after a review of their social media accounts uncovered inappropriate themes (click here to read more about it). Other people have been fired for liking, sharing or writing offensive posts. People are looking.

Studies show that at least 60 percent of employers use social networking sites to research candidates, and the number of employers who use this tactic is growing. Whether or not you agree with it, researching people online is a practice that is likely to continue.

Many employers want to see social media activity, because it gives them a more well-rounded view of who you are. These days, a lack of activity on networking sites might even be cause for suspicion, because usage of the networks is so prevalent.

So what’s an online user to do? Heed advice on what online behaviors to avoid. In keeping with this¬†advice¬†from on how social media can benefit your career, I’d like to offer my own suggestions:

  1. Don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t say to your grandmother.
  2. Think before posting.
  3. Get the facts. Read the article before you “like” or share it. Understand the issue before you choose and publicize your position.
  4. Treat social media networking accounts as an extension of your interpersonal and written communications.
  5. Use proper spelling and grammar.
  6. Avoid politics.
  7. Don’t use expletives.
  8. Keep it professional.
  9. Focus on highlighting your strengths.
  10. And this oldie but goodie … if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.

Before you protest this advice by reminding me that you have First Amendment rights (you do) and you have a right to an opinion (you do), please realize that I’m saying this for your benefit. I’m not advising you to be impersonal. That’s no fun, and it’s not realistic. And I’m not advising you to be fake. That doesn’t work, either. It’s okay to like puppy videos and the Rolling Stones. I’m just advising you to be careful.

I like to think that users who maintain a positive online presence do so not because they want to impress someone, but rather because it is a true extension of who they are. I choose to think that people are kind to others online because it’s the right thing to do, not because they are trying to amass “likes,” clicks, or followers. However, some people are neither positive nor kind.

Today I’m issuing a social media challenge: Have someone you respect as a mentor, instructor, or colleague review your social media accounts, and talk about the impressions that your content creates. Are you maximizing the positive side of social media? Are you sharing the best version of yourself? If your content were shown to people in your close social network, would you feel ashamed, neutral, or proud? What, if anything, should be changed?

Take an inventory of your accounts and adjust your content and behaviors appropriately. I often tell my students to “shine the diamond,” meaning that I want them to let their talents be seen. Sparkle.


Photo credit:

Tricia Richards Thumbnail-Head Shot

Tricia Richards-Service is an adjunct faculty member of the Communication Arts Department at Marywood University and a doctoral candidate in health promotion. A 2017-2018 Fulbright-Schuman student research grantee, she is now in Europe, where she is conducting research on breast cancer in Ireland and Romania.

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