It's been drilled into us since the first days of the Internet that whatever you post can last out there forever for the world to see. Prospective employers now look at your Facebook page to see what kind of posts you make. Now the same applies to Twitter, even though that social media only allows you to post 140 characters including a photo.
You can get into trouble with 140 characters or less...and sometimes less is more damaging.
Case in point.
Public relations executive Justine Sacco was fired Saturday afternoon by Barry Diller's IAC just one day after posting her controversial AIDS Tweet.
Sacco tweeted Friday morning: "Off to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I'm white." While she was still in the air flying to Africa, the Twitterverse exploded with condemnation.
IAC released a statement saying they didn't approve of what Sacco wrote. On Saturday, after Sacco apologized on Twitter, her Twitter account was deactivated and IAC came out with another statement:
"The offensive comment does not reflect the views and values of IAC. We take this issue very seriously, and we have parted ways with the employee in question. There is no excuse for the hateful statements that have been made and we condemn them unequivocally. We hope, however, that time and action, and the forgiving human spirit, will not result in the wholesale condemnation of an individual who we have otherwise known to be a decent person at core."
Now Sacco isn't all that well-known and maybe that was part of the problem...or maybe it was because she didn't realize the enormity of her lapse in good judgment until hours later.
Here's another example.
The same day, actor and comedian Steve Martin was engaging in a back-and-forth with followers about grammar, using their questions to make wisecracks.
When one person asked Martin, "Is this how you spell lasonia?" he replied, "It depends. Are you in an African-American neighborhood or at an Italian restaurant?" Martin quickly realized his joke might be interpreted as offensive and deleted it.
"In retrospect, bad joke," he tweeted to a follower who brought up his remark, later adding, "Sorry about that."
When a different fan expressed disappointment in him, Martin wrote, "I did apologize. But again, a second later I realized what an offensive thing I'd done. Deep bow."
Now Martin's faux pas was more understandable, coming from a comedian who likes to make wisecracks.
Looking at my own Twitter account and those of the people I follow, it's rather eclectic. Sometimes I see tweets that make me shake my head. A few examples? I follow several police departments, LeBron James, Kim Kardashian, Kanye West, the Cleveland Browns, the Green Bay Packers, Reuters' Kim Palmer, UberFacts, the Washington Post, the New York Jets...just to name a few.
Most tweets are informational, some are opinionated and a few -- like Kanye West's -- are bizarre. He made about 4,000 tweets before deleting them all a while back. Some were quite crude and many were pics of Kim Kardashian half-naked. He has 10 million followers but only follows one person -- Kim Kardashian.
Now, social media is part of my job so I like to stay informed on what is trending. But for those of you not on Facebook nor Twitter -- and I'm thinking of one friend in particular who still calls Facebook "Facepage" -- just stay on the Internet and you'll get all you need.
Besides, unlike SO many people on Twitter and Facebook, I don't reveal a lot of personal things on either. Only one person in the world knows which NFL football player's jersey I have always wanted, what the only shade of blue is that I adore and gave me the only nickname that makes me crazier than usual.
Follow me on Twitter @KimWendel