Social Media Literacy: A Speech Transcript

Imagine you have a really great job, the work is fulfilling, your coworkers and you are good friends, and then one day you are called into a meeting with the board of directors of your organization. In this meeting your “anonymous” Twitter account is mentioned as a concern, and some of your Tweets are referenced. Despite the public not knowing who you are, they have found out and they don’t like the things you have to say. And they fire you.

This happened to me.

Social media literacy skills, that is, the ability to communicate appropriately and responsibly, while approaching interactions critically, and understanding the consequences, while online, is an important 21st Century skill.

According to a report by Pew Institute, 93% of teens and 72% of adults use social media, yet few schools and businesses teach social media literacy and responsibility skills even today; meanwhile participation in social media can have immediate and long lasting impact on a person’s life, from education to employment and even relationships, all simply based on who you allow in your network or the way you express yourself.

The Library of Congress has now archived, and continues to do so, every Tweet from as far back as 2006. From the words you use to express yourself, to the pictures you use in social media, they can have immediate and long-term consequences. And it’s not just what you write, or who you are, that can cause problems.

Who you allow in your networking circles can effect your life. For example, in the case of Flordia vs George Zimmerman, prosecution questioned a witness on her connections with Zimmerman’s brother on Twitter and Facebook for a full eight minutes.

Your social media connections can also impact you financially in the future.

As reported by Mother Jones, The Economist and Investor Place, there are currently three minor loan companies that use the credit and spending habits of Facebook connections of those seeking loans, to determine the risk factor of loaning money. According to reports, this may be a trend for larger loan companies in the future.

When people look at social media they often see it as a platform of free speech and self-expression, but rarely, do they consider the consequences.

For example, Johnny Cook, a Georgia bus driver, learned that one of his middle-school passengers got denied school lunch because his account was .40 cents overdrawn. Upset, he vented on Facebook about the unfairness of the situation. It was a reasonable rant, but his employers discovered it and he was fired. According to Business Insider, in 2011 there were 17 similar cases.

Again, in the case of Florida vs George Zimmerman, witness Selene Bahadoor was confronted by the Defense for a Facebook petition she “liked” that “championed” the arrest of Zimmermann.

Both of these unfortunate events are results of poor social media literacy.

Further what people write can be misinterpreted because there is often little context, no voice inflection or meaningful facial expression in social media communication.

Your actions on social media can even have an effect on future employment.

According to a report by Reppler, a social media image consultant company, 91% of the 300 sampled hiring managers report using social networking sites to screen potential employees, of that, 69% reported that they rejected an applicant because of what they saw of them on a social networking site. Another survey by Kaplan Test Prep, a college prep organization, stated that 35% of the 500 college admissions offices they surveys admitted that something they saw online about an applicant negatively impacted their application. That’s up nearly 25% in a years time.

The good new is two states have currently passed laws protecting students and employees from having to turn over their log-in and password information to their schools and employers, and there are currently 36 state bills designed to do the same thing waiting to be passed. But they can still monitor your accounts, so the National Labor Relations Board has also passed ruling to protect the first-amendment rights of private sector employees. Of course none of this is a guaranteed protection.

This is not to say that you should be afraid of social media, or censor yourself, but rather recognize the potential permanency of social media/internet interactions, and its ability to have a long lasting impact. As you move through your life learning responsible communication and being aware of the consequences of actions that you may consider innocent, can be very important both to you and people in your life."


Tillman, K. (2010). Do Media Literacy, Digital Literacy, and Social Media Literacy Intersect? Edelman Digital.

Pew Research Center. (2013). 72% of Online Adults are Social Networking Site Users.

Pew Research Center. (2013). Teens and Social Media.

Library of Congress. (2013) Update on the Twitter Archive at the Library of Congress.

Eichelberger, E. (2013, September 18). Your Deadbeat Facebook Friends Could Cost You A Loan. Mother Jones.

Trivedi, A (2013, June 6). Georgia Bus Driver Fired For Facebook Post. Time.

National Conference of State Legislatures. (2013) Employer Access to Social Media Usernames and Passwords

Greenhouse, S. (2013, January 21). Even If Enrages Your Boss, Social Net Speak Is Protected. New York Times.

Kaplan Test Prep. (2012) Kaplan Test Prep’s 2012 Survey of College Admissions Officers.