Break the internet, not your personal brand

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What happens on the internet, stays on the internet, and this is not a good thing. Whilst the digital revolution has changed our society for the better, it has also brought along a set of new risks. Poor, careless and reckless online behaviour, for instance, can have serious consequences – in the short and the long run. Our children must come to terms with this before they do irreparable damage to their personal brands, impacting their chances of succeeding in life. It may sound strange, but this is where games can help. 

In the analogue past, life was easy. Good report cards meant you stood a better chance of getting into the university of your choice, with good academic performances helping you strike it lucky on the employment front. Today, youngsters need more than good grades and an excellent CV to land their dream job. 

Besides looking at candidates’ study results and resumés, employers care a great deal about the character of those they seek to employ. What you are saying and sharing online, and how you are interacting with others on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram have become crucial factors, too.

According to a 2018 survey by global recruiter CareerBuilder, 70% of bosses screen their candidates’ social media track records before even inviting them for an interview. Of those companies doing social research, 57% have found content that caused them not to hire a certain candidate. Red flags include provocative or inappropriate photographs, videos or information (40%), racist, sexist and other derogatory comments and posts (31%), poor communication skills (27%), and unprofessional screen names (22%).

Like youngsters need guidance in conducting themselves in real-life, it is important that adults teach them how to properly communicate, interact and share information online. This helps them prevent avoidable mistakes they may regret for the rest of their lives. The difference between making an off-colour comment in real life and online is this: in a face-to-face setting, your comment will certainly upset the people involved, but often only the people involved in that particular conversation. Eventually, most of it will pass if you show true remorse and make amends. 

Making that same comment online, with thousands of potential anonymous onlookers, may follow you for years: it is easier to say something online than to make it go away, no matter how much remorse you show. What makes it worse is the risk of each onlooker sharing whatever you have said to their respective crowds, which may include your future bosses. This could seriously impair your child’s personal brand before it has the chance to properly develop. 

The trick is to talk to youngsters about this in a language they understand and in a way that grabs their attention. The days of wagging fingers and one-way communication are long gone. This is where interactive storytelling, augmented reality and even games come in. 

The University of the Western Cape (UWC) launched one such game earlier this year. Ultimate Celebrity Manager teaches young adults about what can make and break their online reputation. It asks players to make choices to balance popularity, with data privacy in a fun and engaging way. By playing as a manager, trying to control the reputation of a celebrity, the messaging is subtle and non threatening, yet drives the underlying messages.

Another platform that helps youngsters become good digital citizens is The Carnegie Cyber Academy. The same applies to The Second Adventure of The Three CyberPigs, a game by Canadian EduTech company Media Smarts, which teaches children aged 8 to 10 how to recognise harmful content online and what the basic online etiquette rules are.

Proper online behaviour boils down to a few principles. Firstly, make sure your online persona matches your offline persona at all times. Always be the same person, whether you are having a discussion with gaming buddies via WhatsApp or with a friend in class. This should be the cornerstone of any young person’s personal Netiquette. 

Secondly, be aware that the person reading your comments and messages is a real human being with feelings – and not an anonymous screen or robot. The best way to go about this is for young people to live by this Golden Rule: what you wouldn’t say to someone in real-life shouldn’t be said in the virtual world, particularly if you don’t know the person you are dealing with. 

Finally, the information you share via social media, messaging platforms and other channels must be true and accurate at all times. Perpetuating fake news and spreading false and potentially damaging rumours about people they don’t know will not count in your favour. 

Young people, and anyone for that matter, must always be critical of the information they are receiving and most importantly, sharing. If it sounds too good, too strange, or too unbelievable to be true, then it usually is. Don’t break your personal image in an attempt to break the internet. It may cost you more than it is worth.


Lebogang Lekoma is head of client services at Sea Monster. Before deciding to change direction and enroll at AFDA, he studied engineering and spent a year with the Nuclear Energy Corporation of SA.