Do you currently maintain a Facebook or Twitter account? Do you have an old MySpace page somewhere out there? Did you ever post comments on online forums under your own name? If you’ve ever done these things, then you’ve left behind information that could hurt you when you run for political office.
Young people tend to be more willing to share their lives online. Those free-wheeling kids now find themselves dealing with the consequences of their previous online lives. More and more candidates today are dealing with old digital material coming back to haunt them.
Racy photos, crazy party shots, video clips, and off-the-cuff comments on social media profiles can exist for years online. When these digital artifacts are ‘discovered’, a political opponent can use them out of context (or even in context, as the case may be). This can leave candidates confronting a sticky issue.A #political opponent can use your online content out of context. Don't give them extra ammo. via @onlinecandidate Click To Tweet
No amount of detergent can provide a digital scrubbing
Deleting online pages or accounts won’t make the information go away. A saved screen shot, a digital photograph on a hard drive or even an archived page on Wayback.org can still exist somewhere, waiting to be pop up again. Trying to delete profiles and files after they are discovered can only inflame the issue and make it seem like a candidate is trying to hide something.
Users can have a false sense of control by relying too much on privacy controls within their accounts. Consider using this rule of thumb: Consider anything that you post online will eventually be made public and could be used against you by a political opponent. If you are not comfortable with anyone now or in the future seeing certain material about you, then do not post it online.
Of course, that doesn’t prevent other people from posting about you online. In this age of viral video, you will want to keep the same rule of thumb about anything you do or say in public. After all, you don’t want to have a ‘Maccaca Moment‘.#SocialMedia Tip: If you are not comfortable with anyone now or in the future seeing certain material about you, then do not post it online. via @onlinecandidate Click To Tweet
Keep it clean going forward
There are candidates who have been able to say and do outrageous things on social media and still get elected. But that technique will probably not work for you. Politicians’ online behavior has been drawing more attention lately. In some cases, the consequences have been disastrous.
Some recent examples include:
- A former candidate for St. Paul City Council avoided additional jail time when he was sentenced for posting a topless photo of his wife online while running for the city’s Ward seat.
- Partisan tweets prompted the removal of a Kansas Department of Transportation staffer and the withdrawal of a governor’s nominee for the Kansas Court of Appeals.
- A former Democratic congressman was recently released from prison after having served 21 months for sending explicit texts to a 15-year-old girl.
- Five candidates resign after screenshots of racist, homophobic and other offensive comments came to light.
Confront and move on
Be proactive where you can. Clean up your online presence before you announce your run for office.
There’s no sense in becoming paranoid about what hidden information may exist about you online. What’s out there is out there, and there’s no getting around it. Anything you post going forward should be reflective of you as a candidate. That might mean cleaning up slang or colloquial phrasing on posts, or updating your profile images to something more dignified.
You don’t have to change who you are, but be aware of how you present yourself to a potential voter.
If there is embarrassing material about you online, it will probably be discovered. In the end it’s best to simply confront the material and move on with more important issues.
Online Candidate clients can access our resources on cleaning up and building an online reputation. Ready to start your own online campaign? We have four campaign website packages to get your site built quickly and easily.
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