There is no “Control Z” when it comes to Social Media

I don’t know Kayla Mendoza. But like many young people, she once had an active social media life. Her last tweet on November 16th was “2 drunk 2 care”. According to news reports, moments after posting that tweet, she got into her car and crashed head-on into a car carrying two young women killing both.

Kayla’s survived. Her profile is still up on twitter, but she no longer tweets. Instead people have tweeted her, calling her a horrible and evil person. Some strangely have favorited her last tweet (1,381 at last count).

A quick search of her twitter profile shows that Kayla loved to drink and get high. Her twitter description is “pothead” princess. Kayla, who lives in Florida, made the news all over the country, including the New York Daily News, whose reporters used social media to build a profile on her. Journalists use twitter often in their reporting. When suspects were named in the Boston Bombing, reporters scoured the two bothers’ twitter profiles for clues as to what may have led them to commit such a horrible crime.

They look for clues in their tweets — in Kayla’s case, she tweeted about her disappointment in people, getting high and wanting to be a better person. Her tweets are not to different than many of my students. Reading her old tweets almost feels like I snuck into her bedroom and stole her diary. But twitter isn’t a private diary. Twitter, even when you have a locked account, is public.

So, why do I bring up Kayla’s story? Last week, in my Multimedia Class we were discussing the impact their social media lives can have when looking for a job. Because, despite the laws and what they may say in public, many companies are still asking to “friend” and “follow” their future prospects. I had one student who was asked to log onto his Facebook page at an interview. So what should or shouldn’t they post, they ask?

That’s a tough one to answer. Some people will say you should post or tweet updates that wouldn’t upset your grandmother. I’ve seen some of my students tweets. Their grandmother would probably not be happy. I’ve also seen some of their photos they post — just like Kayla, there is a lot of references to drinking, partying and other activities. These are all things many of us did in college! But what happened in the 80s and early 90s — stayed in the 80s and 90s. They are all distant memories, triggered by an old photo or a reunion party.

I told them that they should still feel free to comment publicly about their lives, to celebrate and complain responsibly. I told them to avoid tweets that are racist, homophobic and misogynist. But I also emphasized that they should still be who they are and not to lose their individuality. And if they have a profile name that is offensive, they may want to change it. Several of them joked, that they wish they could just hit the delete button and erase everything. But there is no “Control Z” on social media.

And somewhere out there, someone may have already screen saved their identity and deleted tweets and it might have ended up on a website like Public Shaming on Tumblr.


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