The cringe-inducing tension of last Sunday’s presidential debate was cut – even if for only a fleeting moment – by the emergence of Ken Bone, who quickly became a folk hero for the digital era. With his made-to-hashtag name and seasonally-appropriate red sweater, viewers looking for common ground during a divisive election cycle were quick to embrace his everyman demeanor and practical question about energy policy. Within days, he was everywhere –The New York Times interviewed him, Stephen Colbert sang about him, his Twitter followers exploded from seven to more than 250,000 and several online retailers sold out of his iconic sweater.
But his status as an everyman hero was short-lived. On Thursday, he announced a Reddit AMA, using the same account he’s used for more than a year. As they’re wont to do, inquisitive web users dug deep into his Reddit history and unearthed some details that didn’t quite meet the expectations set by his cuddly persona. Bone weighed in on some controversial and politically-charged topics and playfully commented on a variety of decidedly NSFW content. His late-week fall from grace happened just as fast as his early-week rise to fame.
What can the rest of us learn from Bone’s very public example?
First and foremost, be just as careful when choosing the words you use online as you are when speaking publicly. When sitting at the keyboard, it can be easy to forget that much of what we post online can be traced back to us. The illusion of online anonymity emboldens many to weigh in with opinions they wouldn’t necessarily express in person, but those words can come back to haunt us. Once you share something online, it becomes part of your digital footprint and can be linked back to you in most cases.
Secondly, be aware of the privacy settings on social networking sites and be careful with who you allow to follow you. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all have options for limiting who can view the content you share. It’s still best not to say things you don’t want to reach the general public, but you likely have more room to express yourself with people you trust than with strangers who are less likely to view your words in the appropriate context.
Finally, if you do enjoy using your online anonymity to express yourself in ways you’d rather the general public not know, don’t link your screen name with your real name. Bone could easily have avoided the more unpleasant parts of his big week by creating a new Reddit account to use during his 15 minutes of fame.