What a strange beast social media has become. We’ve been Facebooking, Myspacing, Beboing – and other such verbs that shouldn’t exist – since the advent of those websites. But a change has become evident in how we portray ourselves over social media.

What was once a tool for private interaction amongst friends has become a portfolio of the self; a warped world in which people define themselves by their best traits. For some, social media is a canvas for vanity, for others it is simply a means of communication. For many, it doesn’t matter at all.

Personal justification for using social media doesn’t really matter; the important fact is that it actually holds power. Employers use it to screen employees, businesspeople use it to make money,  celebrities use it to advertise themselves. How one portrays themselves on social media is how one is seen by those who do not see them. This has consequences.

Imagine if a controversial opinion you hold on a current political issue was tattooed on your forehead. Would it be hard to get that job you want? Would any of your peers judge you?

Social media provides a public sphere of communication outside of day-to-day interaction. This has fantastic implications, and has yielded some notable results for many charities, scammers, propaganda-pushers, and people who want to sell cars that definitely aren’t stolen on the ol’ Buy and Sell.

Although this public sphere is often utilised for the greater good, I personally stop and think whenever I’m about to like, share, comment, or post my private selfie collection for the world to see. I stop and think about who is going to see this, and what they are going to think.

It’s not that I’m naïve enough to place any personal value in the limited, digital projection of myself. It’s the fact that if the wrong person hears or thinks the wrong thing about you, it can have consequences.

Hence, personal politics come in to play here. Although your position in society might be relatively unimportant – in terms of power and influence – and you only have 30 friends on Facebook, you now have a public image. You must now manage this public image, prioritising being seen for the right reasons, while making sure that you’re not seen for the wrong ones.

These thoughts, although formed over time, have been collected in these words today because of a discussion about drugs that took place on Radio Hauraki that was also shared on Tearaway Magazine’s Facebook page. Public discussion of drugs that aren’t alcohol is a big no-no in New Zealand, for some reason or other. Association with drug discussion is too often mistaken for the act of advocating drugs.

Here’s the delightfully informative discussion, as I’ll now tactfully stray away from that particular topic, so as not to tarnish my public image. Or rather, because the man discussing it knows a lot more than I do.

Let’s not get tied up in the drugs thing, though. This phenomenon of being misunderstood in your intentions on social media is not exclusive to that topic, but also to anything else seen as even somewhat taboo. Perhaps it applies to the controversial opinion that you wouldn’t like tattooed on your forehead.

In a world where some employers in America have asked applicants for their Facebook password, such a thing being misconstrued is disastrous. Intentions are irrelevant, and the consequences are all too real.

For those of us who choose a career path with limited job prospects, it can mean missing out on one or more of the very few opportunities that we get. Fortunately, Maccas is hiring and they don’t care.