When “Going Viral” is a Bad Thing: What Parents Need To Know

We’ve all heard the term, “going viral” and we all know what it means. What we may not realize is just how quickly it can happen.

It’s fine when it’s a cute video, but what about when it’s a picture or video of someone in a way that they wouldn’t want themselves seen? Or a story that paints a person (true or false), maybe your child, in a bad way.

That’s when it can get even worse. It’s bad enough that someone has to see the post about themselves, but knowing that people are talking about them behind their back makes the pain increase exponentially. The comments will likely not remain “just online”, either. Too often, the targets of the bad behavior are attacked offline as well.

When I’m presenting to students or parents, I always use the example of Six Degrees of Separation, which states that that everyone is six relationships (or less) away from any other person in the world. The scary part is just how quickly this can happen!

Making this as conservative as possible, we’re going to pretend that each person who sees a picture shares it with just one other person in each round, but in reality, it could be sent out to dozens of people in seconds. Maybe hundreds. Here’s how it works:

  1. One person takes a pic and sends it to a friend. Two people have now seen the pic.
  2. Both of them decide to share the pic to just one person. Now, four people have seen the pic.
  3. Each of them repeats the process. Now, eight people have seen it.
  4. Each of them repeats the process. Now, 16 people have seen it.
  5. Each of them repeats the process. Now, 32 people have seen it.
  6. Each of them repeats the process. Now, 64 people have seen it.
  7. Each of them repeats the process. Now, 128 people have seen it.
  8. Each of them repeats the process. Now, 256 people have seen it.
  9. Each of them repeats the process. Now, 512 people have seen it.
  10. Each of them repeats the process. Now, 1,024 people have seen it.

In only ten rounds, over a thousand people have seen the picture. In another 10 rounds, it will be over a million people. And this entire process may take only a few minutes!

 

Why This Matters

What we do and say, as well as what other people say about us, can affect us offline. It can affect us as soon as it happens or years later, when we’ve long forgotten about it.

From schools looking for new admissions to employers looking for potential new hires to people curious about who they may be about to go on a date with, people need to realize that the #OnlineMeetsOffline lesson can cause real problems or open new opportunities for them. What they find largely falls upon us.

Social media sites, especially Twitter, are very easy to search if you know how to do it. Human Resources employees and Admissions Officers are well versed in how to do it.

What’s the Solution?

To be perfectly honest, there really isn’t one. At least, not a full proof one. With today’s graphics software, it’s very easy to manipulate an image that can be very convincing to most people. That said, a good start is to minimize your child’s pictures online.

We all want to show our kids off, but we may be doing them more harm than good. In France, parents can actually be arrested or sued for posting pics of their children online – it’s considered an invasion of their privacy if it’s done without their consent.

Make sure that your kids avoid posting images that can be taken the wrong way. – Yes, that’s almost impossible. They can start by never sending any inappropriate pictures of themselves with anyone – ever! I recently watched “Do Revenge” on Netflix. It’s a new release and the problems all start when a senior girl sends a topless video to her boyfriend, only for it to be seen by every kid in the school. That’s when the problems start for the girl, and she becomes a pariah bent on revenge.

The best advice that I can give on this topic is that an ounce of prevention is not worth a pound of cure – it’s worth an immeasurable amount of cure!

We all need to realize that what we do online can have long-term consequences. If we realize that what we say online may be read in open-court one day, we may choose not to do some of the things that we might do otherwise. It may take some of the fun away from using social media, but it can prevent a lot of problems down the line!

About the Author

Joe Yeager is the founder of Safety Net of PA, LLC and has been a cybersafety advocate for more than 10 years. It was after his own daughter came across inappropriate content online that he became involved in helping others in the area. He is certified by the US Centers for Disease Control in Bullying Prevention. Joe is the author of #DigitalParenting- A Parent's Guide to Social Media, Cyberbullying &Online Activity which was chosen as an Editor’s Pick in April 2016. Joe is a member of the PedSafe Expert team

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