A Lesson to Know: The Unforgiving Culture of Social Media

For better or for worse, for decades public figures ranging from celebrities to CEOs to politicians to athletes have been notoriously remembered for 10-or-15-second snippets of speech endlessly repeated as quotes in newspapers, snippets in television commercials or on news reports until they come to capsulize the person.

For example, way back in 2o14, Elon Musk, the billionaire genius behind SpaceX, PayPal, Tesla Motors and a host of other companies, was asked about what he was looking for in potential hires for his team. He was specifically asked about what colleges or universities he was partial to. He responded that you do not need to go to college or university, “or even highschool”. This was later followed by the now-famous 2015 quote of his, “ If you don’t make it at Tesla, you go work at Apple”. Yahoo’s former CEO Marissa Mayer was also under intense scrutiny when she made the rather obnoxious comment: “The baby’s been way easier than everyone made it out to be.” These are only minor examples of words that were stated within seconds, and yet, have profound impact on public opinion for a lifetime.

With the advent of social media, there is no longer a curtain public figures can hang behind, in protection of their privacy or for when they say things that their publicists probably wish they did not. Nowadays, everything is seen or heard and caught on some form of recording and shared over and over again through social media. Rooted in the creation of social platforms such as YouTube, Facebook and, later, Twitter, viral content allows for the mass wide-spread of messages, ensuring that even those unaware of public figures’ quotes are up to speed. 

Digging deeper into the media coverage that surrounded the aftermath of the viral spread of these messages elucidates the one of the largest challenges to social media- the negative and unfairly reactive nature of it. In today’s era dominated by an overt need to be politically correct, social media has increased our ongoing desire to react without appropriate research or context.

Now, more than ever before, social figures have a responsibility to be careful about their actions as social media is unforgiving. Public figures should always remember that they are public figures who will be scrutinized every day, to masses of people. This is even more prominent when their offensive words and actions are placed on social media for the entire world to see. And you can never be too careful when your public image impacts thousands of people, especially young people who look up to you. It is important that public figures be more responsible with what they share online, and always remember that what they say publically can come back to haunt them. Public figures are influencers for a reason, and their reach extends to many- and thanks to social media, will do so for a long, long time.