File photo: Model Jessica Leandra Dos Santos during a press conference where she apologised for calling a black man the K word on Twitter. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu

Cape Town - Television sports anchor Lance Witten, with his insensitive tweet following the death of a fan at the Cape Town Linkin Park concert, became the latest in a series of people – famous and not – to find themselves in hot water after inappropriate social media posts.

Witten was suspended by eNews Channel Africa, following in the footsteps of a host of others whose common sense had not prevailed.

“Common sense is not common practice,” social media etiquette pundit Peter du Toit says of the recent flurry of social media blunders.

“For some reason people have the illusion of anonymity when they are sitting in front of the computer, but anything you don’t want to be public you should not put online.”

FHM model Jessica Leandra infuriated tweeters and human rights organisations earlier this year when she used a racial slur in a tweet, describing a confrontation she had with a man in a supermarket. Leandra at first defended her comment, but later issued an apology on her blog.

IOL has reported that South Africans who make racist comments on social networks can be jailed for crimen injuria or hate speech.

Greek triple-jumper Voula Papachristou was banned from the Olympics in July after tweeting “with so many Africans in Greece, at least the West Nile mosquitoes will eat homemade food”.

Just a week later, Swiss footballer Michel Morganella was kicked off the Olympic team for offensive tweets after losing to the South Korean team in a tournament. The tweets said Koreans should “burn themselves”, and they were “retards” and “a bunch of mongoloids”.

Internet gaffes are not limited to the well-known either.

US teen Kristen Neel became infamous there and in Australia earlier this month when she expressed her anger at President Barack Obama’s re-election by tweeting: “I’m moving to Australia, because their president is a Christian and actually supports what he says.”

Bemused Australians were quick to point out that their country does not have a president, and that their prime minister is a woman and an atheist. The teen was publicly shamed when several news organisations printed the tweet and the responses.

With so much potential for public embarrassment, or worse, it is important for users to develop a social media policy for themselves, says Du Toit.

Corporations spend a lot of time and money developing these policies and deciding how to portray their brand on social media. Individuals can use similar techniques to harness social media for their advantage.

“These networks are part of your brand as an individual,” he says. “You have to develop a policy for your brand that expresses what is acceptable and what is not. You have to decide what you want people to find out about you.”

Ask yourself: what do you want your friends and followers to understand about you when they look at your posts? What do you want to be known for?

Du Toit says the first step to avoiding embarrassment online is to understand that there is no such thing as privacy on the internet, and social networks in particular. Don’t be fooled into thinking privacy settings will protect you. Even if you restrict access to your social media profiles, one of your friends or followers can still copy, forward or take a screen shot of anything you post.

“In view of this, always post as if what you are saying is public, and that you will not be able to delete it later,” he advises. “Once it is on the internet it’s there forever.”

Basic social media rules include making sure your posts are accurate, posting original content, or crediting others for their content, and using proper grammar and spelling.

Avoid profanity, off-colour humour, personal insults and slurs about race, religion and sexual orientation.

And don’t post anything about personal drug use, alcohol abuse or sexual activities.

A good rule of thumb is to think about whether you would be happy with what you are posting being on the front page of a newspaper, on TV, or on a billboard, is Du Toit’s advice.

Social media can be an excellent tool for public debate, if done correctly.

But don’t post anything you wouldn’t say to someone’s face, and disagree without being disagreeable, he suggests.

It is also important to remember that although you may use social media for personal rather than professional purposes, their public nature means that what you post reflects on your employer and other organisations you may represent.

“The lines between private and work have blurred, and companies will take action against employees who post things in their private capacity that reflects badly on the organisation,” Du Toit says, adding that the Witten case is just one such example. - Weekend Argus