When I was growing up, it was considered cool to smoke. There were no labels on cigarette packages warning of health hazards. My mom and dad smoked, as did most of my adult relatives, and many of my friends. Actors and actresses in the movies I loved smoked. So I started smoking too. I understand why people start smoking – when family, friends and role models are all doing it, it’s accepted as a social norm, and it’s just something you just do, without thinking about it.
Fortunately I realized the error of my ways in 1972. As more and more scientific evidence came to light, I was convinced of the dangers of smoking. I quit cold-turkey, and I haven’t had a cigarette since.
I mention my youthful ignorance and smoking for a reason. Coinciding with the rise of social media and the omnipresence of smart phones, every year we are seeing more and more cases in our offices that have to do with risque photos and videos that have either been sent by SMS, or posted online for the general public. This is particularly troubling when the cases involve teenagers, who have still have their whole lives ahead of them.
Like young smokers, most young people that overshare risque or private material believe that their actions will have no negative effects on their future. Either that, or they just don’t think about it. It worked for Kim Kardashian anyway.
Kim Kardashian is one of the most famous people on the planet right now. Her foundations in fame began simply because her late father defended O.J. Simpson in court. This fame helped fuel her notoriety when a sex tape she participated in was leaked to the public. The sex tape then fueled her popularity for a television show on the E! network. After garnering that fame, she eventually married rapper Kanye West. After endorsements, appearances, a fragrance with her name on it, and whatever else, Kim Kardashian is said to have a net worth of $45 million.
Good for Kim Kardashian, but I just don’t see how making a personal sex video and then having it leaked (purposely or otherwise) is a sustainable or likely career path for most people. But she’s probably someone your kids look up to anyway.
In this post, I’ll talk about some of our recent work involving cases of oversharing.
10 years ago, I had my first real case related to the texting of photos of a sexual nature (“sexting”, if you’re up on the lingo). A corporate executive (whom we had previously worked with on a couple other, unrelated cases) called and embarrassingly told us that his 14 year-old daughter had sent naked photos of herself to a man in Florida that she had met on the Internet. The father brought his daughter into our corporate office, and we spoke with her. She admitted sending the photos, but she didn’t seem to have a clue that this would entail any risk to her future. She wasn’t thinking of college, or entering the work force. She was 14. She simply wasn’t thinking.
We tracked down the man she sent the photos to in Florida. He turned out to be 19 years old.
I told our client’s daughter that she actually might need to get an attorney. There is actually a dated, but still active, Federal law actually makes it a felony to transport pornography across state-lines, including over the Internet. That would be unlikely to go forward, but the fact that she was a minor would most certainly cause a mountain of legal problems for her male suitor (if you can call him that). I asked her what she would say to the jury if she was subpoenaed to testify in a trial. I asked how she thought her life would change. The wheels started to turn in her mind. She was a straight-A student, on the student council, a freshman cheerleader and an excellent swimmer who already had colleges interested in offering her a swimming scholarship (which meant a full ride to numerous universities). She eventually did grasp the potential damage for what she had done.
Most teens have two or three different social media profiles on sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. There’s not necessarily any problem with that, it’s a part of our modern culture. But these people run into problems when they choose to make their profiles publicly available, instead of private with content available only to their friends or personal circles. Nude or semi-nude photos still get posted. There are pictures of underage drinking, or illegal drug use. There is also the airing of family’s dirty linen: about divorce, sibling problems, arrests, gang affiliations, etc.
Let me lay this out there for everyone:
If your social media profile is public, your data is public – forever.
If your private social media account is hacked, your data is public – forever.
You can remove a post or a picture, but I guarantee you that it’s already been downloaded and stored in multiple public and private databases, around the world. These databases are used for multiple purposes: from selling information about consumers to businesses, to background checks performed by private investigators and HR departments, to criminal enterprises.
As I previously wrote in post concerning Facebook privacy, that anything you post online, ever, can come back to you later.
Our private investigation firm is regularly retained by corporations and colleges to vent potential employees and students, and find all the negativity we can. We are really good at this process. We have our own in-house computer system, which is state-of-the-art and contains proprietary information not available to the public or Internet. Our investigators perform searches that result in online profiles for subjects that are directly linked to external social media sites. The search will display your name, age and gender including all of your verbiage that you have posted. These profiles also contain the photos you have posted.
After speaking with hundreds of teenagers, most are straightforward and admit their actions. The immediate problem after recognizing it is what to actually do about the photos and words that are floating through the internet. The most efficient and economical company to use is Reputation.com. They are professionals and their pricing is very fair. We have no affiliation with the company and know none of their employees. Our referral is based on the many clients we have referred them with almost universal high marks from my clients. When you call, explain your problem and/or situation. If they can help with your particular situation, ask them the three magic questions:
- What is the plan to eliminate the social media postings?
- How long will it take?
- What will it cost?
It’s probably never going to remove completely remove any bad data out there, but it will certainly help.
If you have any questions or need further help, please feel free to give my firm a call.