Be careful what you post

Jam of the week: “Cheated Hearts” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Through college, I was lectured by several professors on a subject that relatively few before me have heard: be careful what you post online.

That is some sound advice for just about anyone these days, but was especially relevant to the people going into careers of journalism and public relations. I’ve already spoken as to the importance of social media in journalism in a past column. To reiterate, news that Osama Bin Laden was killed first began to spread on twitter.

By the same token, social media has also become integral for marking and public relations. While companies spent untold millions on Super Bowl advertisements, thousands of people turned to twitter when the lights went out. According to Wired magazine’s underwire blog, a 15 person team at Oreo posted an image that read “You can still dunk in the dark” with an Oreo illuminated amongst a mostly dark image. That image had about 15,000 retweets on Twitter and over 20,000 likes on Facebook.

However, it’s also important to note that social media and the internet pose dangers for both individual employees and companies.

At a St. Louis Applebee’s, a waitress posted an image of a customer’s receipt online. The reason for the waitress posting the receipt was because it was signed by the customer with the tip gratuity total scratched out. A note was written on the receipt next to it that read, “I give God 10 (percent), why do you get 18?”

The story that unfolds from there is a public relations nightmare that I’m sure a couple of my old professors will show to students for quite some time. The receipt posted showed a portion of the customer’s signature. Shortly after posting it on the website Reddit, people began to try to identify the customer. Website administrators worked to remove the personal information from the image. However, once something is thrown into the churning maelstrom of the internet, it’s virtually impossible to take it back.

Applebee’s fired the employee that posted the image, saying that the personal information posted went against company policy. People angrily took to social media to defend the waitress. Applebee’s proceeded to try and respond to people individually that posted their anger to the restaurant chain’s Facebook page, often reposting the company’s policy to those commentators. In the end, they deleted most of the messages and closed their Facebook page to new posters.

In the end, everyone ended up with a net loss. The waitress is now out of a job, the company has suffered through a public relations nightmare and the customer who wrote the note is now under public scrutiny. In an op-ed for The Guardian, Chelsea Welch, the fired waitress, said that the debacle has brought forward the issue of how wait staff are paid in America. She and others have also been angered by the religious justification of the note.

When I look at this, I just wonder about that moment when Welch must have though about whether or not to take a photo of the receipt and then to post it online. While it’s not bad form to talk about work at all on social media, this story is an example of why it’s important to take that moment and consider the implications of what you post online.