Looks Can Be Deceiving, Especially With Social Media

This week at the funeral for South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, someone snapped a photo of President Obama taking a “selfie” with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt – and the Internet went wild.  Some called it inappropriate and disrespectful at a funeral, others told those complaining to “relax,” that it was a celebration of Mandela’s life, so laughing, smiling and even taking photos wasn’t inappropriate at all – and I happen to agree with the latter.

But with social media giving everyone the ability to share photos –often without any context – it’s not just the President that needs to be extra cautious in nearly everything they do.

I recently spoke to a good friend of mine about a similar issue about how social media has the potentially to be misinterpreted. This friend’s daughter recently graduated from high school and moved to Los Angeles to pursue her dreams of being a dancer, model and fashion design student (yes, all at the same time).  After being there for a month, she nailed her first major role as the lead dancer in a touring show. She’s 19 years old and on her own for the first time, faced with choices she isn’t used to making. Her fellow dancers invite her regularly to go to bars with them and are shocked that she doesn’t have a fake ID and doesn’t drink alcohol either.  In any case, she knows that while she could go to the bar and not drink, anyone could take her photo and post it on social media, and it might look as if she is drinking. This isn’t how she wants to be perceived, so she doesn’t even risk it.

Now back to the President and his selfie.  Mashable posted about how important context is to any photo or post shared around the world. Obama and the other two state leaders were taking their selfie at a “four-hour stadium-sized memorial celebrating the life and works of the beloved Madiba, a riot of colorful dancing and singing.” It wasn’t the funeral.

“The point is, we don’t know the full context of what would be, for almost any other three people in the world, a private moment. Without that knowledge, a rush to judgment dishonors the memory of a man who spent decades fighting a society that systematically rushed to judgment.”

So I guess the point of this post is two fold:

  1. Don’t rush to judgment when you see a photo without the full context behind it.
  2. Don’t put yourself in a situation where it might appear as if you are compromising your beliefs or those of your employer. You could damage your own reputation as well as that of your employer.