(Social Media Week, July 2015.)

For better or worse, we are at the point where the most outspoken curmudgeons against social media admit it is a leading factor driving the momentum of our digital world, and naturally our everyday lives. It’s unlikely to fall victim to a trend-buoyed bubble similar to the early 2000s that will pop one day and leave Facebook and Twitter in pieces. To those who grew up in this world, the mentality is different than those of us who remember a time before social networks. Some see social and digital media as vital as our true daily essentials.

Everyone has horror stories about social media gone wrong, and more often than not it is a failure of comprehension rather than something malicious. Presented here are the top three things to consider as you go about posting your life and content online.

Social Media Addiction

If you’re reading this, I don’t think I need to sell you on the idea that there are people who live their entire lives online. You check their Twitter feeds and the 20th update down is from just 10 minutes ago. People will call this social media addiction, but for many of us it’s just a part of the job. For individuals in careers that involve the digital space, maintaining an active online presence may be part of the job description.

The other reason is we just like being there, and we’ve gotten very comfortable, in record numbers. The problem is that we get too comfortable online, and we forget it is a public space. Indeed, we will see Tumblr users and many others label their blog as their own “safe space” alongside people labeling aggressive online criticism and trolling as “harassment.”

We have conversations in public spaces and forget that others can see and hear them, or even participate in them. We hear stories of people fired from their jobs for posting carelessly online. Others spend so much time on their devices that they see their personal feeds as an intimate location with like-minded people. You might think you’re in your living room chatting online with a friend, or even a stranger, but in reality you are standing in the middle of a crowded, open, always-listening room.

It’s this comfort level that confuses and mixes together broadcasted and private discussions, and has so many people rallying to punish the shadows of their spotlight.

Social Media History

“One of the things we learned pretty early on is ‘Don’t ever, ever try to lie to the internet – because they will catch you. They will de-construct your spin. They will remember everything you ever say for eternity.’” – Gabe Newell, Co-Founder of Valve and Gaming’s Most Popular Human.

You may think it’s easy to avoid the indifferent blades of controversy by maintaining your reputation in the present, but as you probably figured out, I have bad news for you.

The most recent example of this was comedian Trevor Noah, who, after his announcement as the Daily Show’s new host, came under fire for some jokes tweeted years prior that some took offense with some individuals in the public. By the time the alarm bells go off, it is usually too late. Macklemore had a similar story with jokes he Tweeted before his rise to fame.

In years past, we relied on screenshots of offensive content, which could sometimes be dismissed as Photoshop tomfoolery or out-of-context creations. The trend now is to use archive.today to capture inarguable archives of the content in question, so even if you go back later and delete it on your own, you may be too late. If you have a large following, the chances of being captured are exponential. It’s hard to make someone look evil, but easy to make someone look stupid and even easier to make someone look hypocritical.

Where we once had cynical faith that an individual’s opinion would be lost in the noise and background information of the internet, we are finding the opposite to be true: it’s not tears in the rain, it’s paper trails.

Social Media Confusion

“You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don’t take any responsibility for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you patented it, and packaged it, and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now you’re selling it.”Dr. Ian Malcolm, Jurassic Park.

One of the biggest stories of the past few years has been the rise of social media legitimacy in the journalism world, even as it struggles to strike a symbiotic relationship. With Twitter feeds appearing on news screens and journalists engaging directly with their readership the voice of the people is becoming consumed and projected back at them by the information authorities.

Unsurprisingly, internet trolls have capitalized on this desperate desire for instant scoops, leading to impersonations and general lack of fact-checking. This is also a phenomenon that has been tested by journalists themselves.

Sometimes we get carried away. A notorious and already heavily-covered example would be the case of Reddit trying to track down the Boston Bombers as the manhunt was ongoing. It’s something that happens in communities across the internet, from forums to image boards; people hypothesizing and theorizing in the hopes of cracking the case. This is hardly new, however; there are stories of newspapers and police departments having their phone lines flooded by citizens convinced they knew who the Zodiac Killer was.

The problem is that in those cases the professionals were being flooded with amateurs and struggled to filter them. Now, the amateurs are just reporting to each other and facts seem suspiciously easy to come by.

In closing, the two biggest follies a person can exhibit when saying or doing anything in the online space are: everyone isn’t paying attention, and nobody will remember.