What to do if you posted something you regret online
We’re always yammering on around here about how you should be careful about what you post online, so you don’t ruin your entire life – or at the very least lose your job. But what if you’ve already posted something stupid and now you regret it but it’s too late? What can you do?
This is an increasingly common question people are having to ask themselves, as we live in a culture that loves online shaming, which Jon Ronson addresses in his New York Times bestseller So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed.
Shaming is nothing new. Public humiliation has a long and dubiously illustrious history, but something new about our brave new world is how swift, easy, and far reaching the virtual mob’s “justice” can be. Watch out. You think it can’t happen to you – until you make some ill advised joke or comment while trying to be ironic and suddenly the world is calling for your blood.
And you’re like “OH MY GOD, I was being ironic, you idiots!”
And everyone is like “Whatever! We don’t get it! KILL HIM!!! (/HER)!”
And then your life is ruined.
Or maybe you weren’t being ironic and you really were just being stupid. Or maybe you haven’t angered the whole world, and you’ve just peeved off one or two people, or started a huge fight with your Facebook friends, or managed to get yourself in trouble at work.
Whatever the case, can you un-ruin your life? What steps can you take to lessen or control the damage?
Let’s lay them out:
Say and do nothing. Robson offers this advice in a video on Business Insider, in which he says, “Let’s say you’ve made a joke that comes out badly… the best thing to do is just stay completely silent. Maybe say, ‘You misunderstand me, this is what I meant.’ But then don’t engage because all people want to do at this point is tear you apart.” So, as tempted as you might be to argue or defend yourself, don’t.
Take the post down. You probably want to take the offending post down. If you leave it up things will just get worse. Unfortunately for you, the internet is forever and someone probably got a screen shot. But at least it will be gone from your own page.
Apologize. Apologize if you mean it and if you feel it’s necessary. It probably is if you’ve offended friends, acquaintances, or your boss. If you want to keep your job and think it will help you do so, apologize.
Don’t, as Ronson cautions, say “I’m sorry you were offended.” That’s not an apology and you know it. One problem I have with apologizing is, if people simply misunderstood you or didn’t get the joke – say, for example, you are making what you think is an obvious joke about classism but people think you’re the one who’s being classist – then you’re admitting guilt where there actually is none (arguably). But, alas, being wrong doesn’t stop the mob from burning the witch.
How you choose to handle that is up to you. One idea is to say “I’m sorry I didn’t express myself as well as I intended…”
Wait it out. If you just offended a bunch of strangers, people will forget about it. Outrage isn’t sustainable and people will look for new things to be outraged about. I know people who seem to move from one fit of outrage to the next with barely a break in between. So, after you’ve removed the post and apologized, just wait. The world will get bored of you.
Will things go completely back to normal? Maybe. Maybe not. All you can do is your best to fix the situation.
And then never do it again.
A note on reputation management companies: These are an option that you might be aware of already, but I (personally) would not try them. Reviews are bad, they can be expensive, and what they do, such as astroturfing and trying to push negative search results down to the second Google page with SEO tactics, might not work.