Expressive or offensive?

In this day and age, social media is a huge part of every day life. Someone wakes up, checks their Facebook, they go to work and check Twitter and they check again before they go back to sleep. Social media has become a norm. It is a part of life.

However, this platform for interaction and the sharing of personal opinions and information has created a dark hole for unprofessionalism to flourish. Are we crossing the lines of what is appropriate between our social lives and cyberspace?

As college students we are taught to have opinions, state them and take a stance on what is important to us and what we believe in. You are taught how to be an individual and during this time you grow into your own person instead of following others.

College is also a time to have fun, mess around with your friends and live it up.

But as we live our college lives, are we putting too much on the Internet and have we become too comfortable in doing so?

People pay attention to what you as a student are doing, saying and acting. Everything you do can be judged, whether it is positive or negative.

In some cases a Facebook post or Tweet can come along and may carry an underlying message that could be read negatively even if it is not the intention of the author.

This is especially problematic if you are in a position that holds any public visibility, such as that of a student body president and his cabinet.

Here is the million-dollar question; do student leaders need to watch everything they post in the cyber world in order to represent the public in a professional manner?

During the 2012 election, Ryan Gregg, ASBSU, made a comment on his Facebook wall that stated all Republicans, if friends with him, should delete him.

Boise State has 22,000 students enrolled in classes on campus. That is 22,000 students Gregg is representing every single day.

Gregg has a total of 1,592 friends on Facebook and 275 Twitter followers.

“Because as you know I have a ton of people on my Facebook who I don’t know, who are mostly students probably,” Gregg said.

By asking all Republicans on his Facebook to simply delete him as a friend could come off as alienating to the part of the student body who associate themselves with the Republican Party.

The criticism Gregg received on this post garnished many comments, most of which were negative.

Jace Whitaker, Associated Students of Boise State University (ASBSU) external affairs secretary, said, “Ryan is a very passionate individual and within his position he is objective and he cares about the students as a whole and he is a very inclusive individual. The hard thing about being in such a high position within a student leadership position is that everything you say reflects upon that position and Boise State University as a whole.”

Whitaker then goes on to state, “Ryan is a member of the LGBTQ population and I know we have a Chick-fil-A on campus and I know they discriminate against certain student populations. Gregg has this position as president to take the opportunity to go against Chick-fil-A, but he didn’t. He instead, went to the students and asked if they were comfortable with having the Chick-fil-A on campus and the responses were mostly that yes they were comfortable with it. So Ryan is very objective.”

When confronted about the post Gregg explained he had taken a significant amount of criticism from both people he did and did not know.

Gregg said, “I understand that I have this role to play but I also think that we have an unrealistic view of public servants in general. When we think that they will leave their opinions at the door. Everybody has thoughts and opinions. And I think that if they can express them in an appropriate way, on their personal Facebook or as a personal statement and make it clear that they are not reflections of the groups of people that they represent that is a good thing.”

However, the distinction between what Gregg says professionally and what he does in his personal life can be fuzzy.

Gregg then went on to say we are students and we are allowed to have fun, go places and have our own thoughts. As well as exercise new viewpoints and engage in discourse.

“I think that is when we encounter problems with our elected officials is when we forget that they are people,” Gregg said. “I just want students to know that I am just a student too. I get bad grades occasionally. Sometimes I drink too much. So I think that is when we have problems, when we have unrealistic expectations of the people who we ask to serve.”

And while there is a very human element to social media, there is still a professional aspect that must be taken into account.

Ricki Maybruch, associate account executive at a social media marketing and advertising agency in New York City, said she believes all employers should check out what is public knowledge about their potential employees.

“It’s crucial to identify how this person may represent your company to the rest of the world on the Internet,” Maybruch said.

When asked what are some things that might be considered detrimental to hiring an individual who otherwise had overall great credentials Maybruch said, “I would probably not hire a candidate who posts nude photos, offensive language against a specific person or group, or excessive foul language. This person could potentially represent the company I work for, as well as the clients we represent.”

In Section 3 of the ASBSU constitution it states, “ASBSU will not discriminate against any individual on the basis of age, race, color, religion, sex, national origin, ancestry, disability, veteran status, political affiliation, gender identity/expression, or sexual orientation in matters of employment, services, requests for funds, educational programs, or other activates.”

So while Gregg’s post may not have meant to be alienating, it could have come off that way regardless of his intent. And as the representative for the people he was elected to lead, these are things he needs to take into account.

In this digitally connected age it can be very hard to disconnect your personal life from your professional life. But the necessity to watch what you say is at an all time high. The face of job hunting is changing as employers pay more attention to social media.

Yes, we are all students. We are allowed to have our own thoughts, drink too much and make mistakes. However, student leaders must still be wary and careful as to what is put into the world wide web.

There is a difference between being a student and being a student representative of 22,000 people.

No matter who you are, mistakes with social media can—and will—be made. It is not the end of the world and considering one debatable post by the ASBSU president against his service history at the university, odds are it will always be just a hiccup. In the future however, in the words of the Boise State University Communication Department’s Facebook, “No matter what your privacy settings are, when you say it on the web, you’ve said it to all of us.”

About the author  ⁄ Nicole Reither

Nicole Reither

Nicole Reither is the Online Editor of The Arbiter. A senior Communication student pursuing a Certificate of Public Relations, Reither is also the Boise State PRSSA's President. Follow her on twitter @nReither.