My first frightening social media experience, something I remember very clearly, was connected to my work with The Aegis. I had not been on the staff very long, maybe eight months or so, when one slow news day I began trolling around a message board dedicated to Harford and Baltimore County high school athletics (I use "trolling" in its now archaic form, as I was not leaving dozens of unfunny and rude messages, but just searching for current opinions and possible story ideas).
One of the threads had local people discussing The Aegis' All-Harford sports section that had been published a few weeks before, and, as is always the case with All-Harford selections, there were plenty of opinions flying about. In the middle of this online debate, as the competency of The Aegis sports section was being questioned, one of the message board's senior users, a member with several thousand posts, put up a link to someone's Myspace profile (before you laugh, remember, this was 2007, before Facebook had taken over, and before Facebook had been knocked off its pedestal by Twitter), and said, "would you trust someone to pick all-county teams who is a drunk and a smoker?"
When I read that, my throat got very tight and my face started sweating a little bit. The profile this person was referring to belonged, of course, to me, Dewey Fox. In filling out the vital information section, I'd clicked on the tabs that indicated I drank (and I still enjoy a beer on Friday night), and smoked cigarettes (I've since dropped that habit), and, as Myspace was not all that secure, anyone who viewed my profile could make assumptions about me based on the basic information I provided. Once assumptions like that are made, the person who made them is free to air their opinions on the Internet, and thin-skinned journalists are free to get hysterical over strangers saying nasty things about them.
After I'd calmed down a bit and taken stock of the situation, I realized that, as writer who puts his name and ideas out there for the public to consume, I should probably be a little more careful about the personal information I broadcast on the Internet. Not wanting to do so, but also still seething over the ad hominem attack that had been made on me during the message board debate, I deleted the Myspace profile (at least I think I did, because my password no longer works).
Fast forward seven years and I'm just now coming around to the fabulous world of Twitter, where opinions, ideas, sports scores and other ephemera are posted, read and, I think, forgotten about at a pace much faster than anything seen on Facebook. Athletes, who once needed journalists to record, write down and then edit their words if they wanted them to be seen by the public, can now bypass people like me. They have a direct line to the masses, one that is running 24 hours a day. But, as I've learned lately in looking at The Aegis Twitter feed, everyone is on there, and they aren't exactly shy about the information they share. I've seen some tweets from people much younger than myself that have made me blush, and have had to keep myself from making assumptions based on what I've read.
Without sounding too much like a curmudgeon — which I find myself slipping toward every day — just know that the things you write, the bit of information you make available, even if it's only a blip on someone else's Twitter feed and forgotten about by 99 percent of the world, are still out there, floating around, waiting for someone to pick them up and read them.