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Digital sins of youth: what to do if embarrassing posts suddenly become public?

2021-10-11T14:02:53.934Z

As a teenager, the head of the Green Youth wrote tweets for which she is ashamed today. How do you deal with your social media history? Expert Felix Beilharz says what you should delete - and what not.



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Social media can become a burden when old posts catch up with current life

Photo: FilippoBacci / Getty Images

As a teenager, Sarah Lee Heinrich, the new federal spokeswoman for the Green Youth, wrote posts that she finds problematic today - and has temporarily withdrawn from the public after death threats.

How relevant are such statements years later?

And how can you get rid of digital youthful sins?

The social media expert Felix Beilhart recommends acting quickly.

SPIEGEL:

How can you prevent digital youthful sins from catching up with you?

Felix Beilharz:

Strictly speaking, not at all.

Most will barely remember what they posted eight or nine years ago or even earlier.

And it's not just about your own posts and tweets - but also about posts from other users that you have liked or commented on.

If you've been on social media for years, it's hard to keep track of it.

And if you don't actively delete problematic entries, they're still there.

SPIEGEL:

Suppose I have the feeling that something could be there - what should I do first?

Beilharz:

The first thing you should do is switch your accounts from "public" to "private" - with Facebook and Instagram this is no problem.

This gives you time to go through everything yourself and to sort out possible contaminated sites.

Only on Twitter is everything public.

You have to decide whether you want to go through all of this by hand or, even that is possible, make a clear cut and maybe delete everything that was posted before a certain date.

This can be done very quickly with tools like Tweet Deleter.

Or you can search for problematic posts with specific keywords in your own account.

SPIEGEL:

Are there companies that do something like this for you?

Beilharz:

PR agencies or reputation management providers do something like that - but when it comes to several years in which you have posted a lot, it can quickly cost several thousand euros.

It's more worthwhile for people in very exposed positions.

SPIEGEL:

Is the digital past relevant at all for normal employees - or is it only important if one is aiming for a bigger career politically or otherwise?

Beilharz:

That is important for everyone. There is an increasing number of labor court judgments that even lead to dismissals if employees have misbehaved on social platforms. For reasons of data protection, employers are not allowed to scour their employees' accounts, not even those that are publicly visible, but what is there once is difficult to get rid of. The digital past can play a role in the next promotion or job change, even if it wasn't communicated that way. The basic rule is always: do not post anything that you would not publicly announce on a pedestal in the middle of the city center.

SPIEGEL:

Only that as a young person on a stage in the city center you might do different things than at a more sedate age.

Would you rather delete everything?

Or create new accounts right away?

Beilharz:

I don't think that's the best option.

It looks strange if you, as a person who wants to appear digitally competent, only have social media accounts from the end of 2021.

Or if you have had accounts since 2010 but have not found any entries for the first five years.

That doesn't inspire confidence.

If you can somehow manage it, you should go through your history by hand or let it go through - and maybe just delete everything that was before your 16th birthday.

SPIEGEL: But

what if others find what they are looking for in front of me and find embarrassing posts?

Beilharz:

That can also happen if you have already deleted everything - after all, it can always be that someone took a screenshot.

It doesn't always have to be a problem.

Often the best way to stand up is that you used to have a different opinion and that you have developed.

The blanket deletion is more of the last resort that you should resort to, especially not for fear of a few perhaps embarrassing tweets.

In the reactions to Sarah Lee Heinrich, many users show understanding that one should not be measured by what one said as a teenager.

SPIEGEL: In

your opinion, did she react correctly?

Beilharz:

It already makes the impression. It is important not to remain silent for a long time, but to react quickly and openly if embarrassing posts suddenly become public. Sitting out is the worst idea - if you remain silent for several days, there is even more room for speculation. Take a stand, explain what was behind the embarrassing post - maybe it was just an inside gag? Or you can say: Hey, I was 14, there is no way I would post something like this today, and here is my current opinion. Admitting a mistake is always better than hiding it up, because that leads to the next faux pas. Talking out of it only makes things worse. Then honestly say, I'm sorry, and be clear about your demeanor. A clear, publicly visible statement is sufficient.You don't have to go into each comment individually.

Source: spiegel

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