In an ideal world, you could say, do and be whatever you want to online and it wouldn’t affect anything about your future.
Actually, in a truly ideal world, you wouldn’t have to worry about your future at all, because you have three wishes and one of them is for endless money and superpowers.
But… yeah. The things you get up to on social media, discussion forums and anywhere else you’re interacting with the internet can really stuff things up for you.
Photos never go away.
Back before the dawn of time, if you didn’t like the way a photo came out you could tear it up and burn the negative. These days it’s hard to imagine ever being able to completely get rid of a photo – every self-destructing pic you send can be screenshotted, and they live on in your phone’s memory bank.
You might have heard people over the age of 30 thanking God there was no social media when they were teenagers. There’s a reason for that.
Everyone’s a detective.
You can pretty much guarantee that if you go for a job, the interviewer is going to Google your name. Do it yourself now and see what comes up (and pay special attention to the photos).
Obviously you shouldn’t be judged by what you do when you’re having fun with mates, but you should also be smart about what you reveal about yourself in the public sphere. That goes double when you actually have a job, text in sick then check in at the beach.
A thoughtless comment can ruin your life.
Maybe you heard about the (white) American woman who tweeted about hoping she didn’t catch AIDS before she boarded a flight to Africa – and hours later, when she landed, found out the entire world hated her for being a racist.
In So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, Jon Ronson explores a number of stories along these lines.
It’s terrifying reading for anyone who’s made dumb jokes online, so even if you think you’re making a harmless gag, be aware of the potential knock-on effects if someone takes offence.
It isn’t all bad.
Reputation works both ways, right? Do good things online and they can pay off for you. For example, you could organise a crowdfunding campaign for a good cause on Pozible.
You could pump people up on social media instead of starting fights and slagging them off. Another idea is to write some articles for A•STAR about your favourite charities, reforestation work you’ve been doing or how much fun it is to work extra hard on bonus projects. Get on it!