21 Photos You Should Never Post on Social Media

July 12, 2011
Sarah Eaton

Share photos on social media that are crisp, clean and professional.

I have been working with a variety of organizations on social media strategies, tactics and plans this year. Part of the learning curve involves getting a handle on exactly what we should post on social media. The flip side is knowing what not to post.

One of the toughest questions relates to photographs. Staff at every level, as well as students and volunteers need to be very, very clear that once their photos are posted on line, they immediately leave a “digital footprint”.

In Vancouver earlier this year there was a riot after the city’s hockey team lost the final game of the 2011 Stanley Cup. Photos posted online have been used to identify those involved in the incident. There’s even a Facebook page called “Vancouver Riot Pics: Post Your Photos” and a similar website that police are reportedly scanning to gather evidence against alleged rioters.

In addition to photos taken of just about anyone, by anyone else, at a public event, pictures can also be copied by just about anyone, saved and then re-shared again via e-mail or other postings. Oh yeah, and in between the point when they are saved and re-distributed, they can also be Photoshopped. Think about that for a minute… That means anything you post on line can be saved by someone else and altered in any number of ways beyond your wildest dreams.

Last month, in the United States, the federal government essentially condoned a new start-up company whose core business is to screen prospective employees for companies, by scouring their digital and social media footprints.

That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t post photos. It just means that you want to be very savvy about what you put out there in cyberspace. Avoid photos that could be considered questionable by prospective employers, program funders or other professional contacts. But what does that mean, exactly? Let me give you some examples of the types of photos (and videos) to avoid:

  1. You, in a swimsuit. Seriously, unless you are a swimsuit model and you’re looking for modelling gigs, leave the beach photos off social media.
  2. You, in your underwear (especially if it’s in a public setting and that’s all you happen to be wearing).
  3. Boudoir shots (Unless you’re a boudoir photographer or a nude model, don’t post these.)
  4. Drunk / tipsy photos.
  5. Photos of you – or anyone – lighting up a reefer or doing any kind of drugs. (See #12).
  6. You leaning over a toilet bowl (or anywhere else) vomiting.
  7. Actually… any photos of bodily functions are best left off social media.
  8. You engaging in frisky behaviour with your boss’s, colleague’s or friend’s significant other.
  9. Smoochy stuff of any kind — unless it’s your own wedding photo, and even then, I’d err on the side of caution.
  10. “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” photos – That means, photos of you having a good time, when you should have been at work or school. (Bosses and teachers use Facebook too, you know.)
  11. You with a .49 shotgun, a machine gun, a handgun or any kind of weapon, for that matter. (Again, unless you are a firearms instructor.)
  12. You, engaged in any kind of criminal or illicit activities. (I’m sure the Vancouver riot seemed innocent enough at the time…)
  13. You, acting out your anger or frustrations by walloping your kid with a big ol’ wooden spoon or kicking the dog.
  14. You, taking out your frustrations or loneliness by cutting your wrists, hanging yourself by a noose, or even staging or pretending a suicide attempt. That’s just disturbing. Call the local help line. Don’t post a photo.
  15. You, being arrested, being hauled off in a police car or in jail.
  16. Similarly, you, in a straight jacket, handcuffed or otherwise restrained. Even if it’s part of a Halloween costume, just think what a prospective employer might think when they Google you and see that photo out of context. You won’t get the job.
  17. Photos of your house, that clearly show your address. (Seriously, do you really want to make it that easy for the whole world — and I mean, the whole world — to know where you live?)
  18. Photo renditions (scanned copies) of your driver’s license, passport or other ID. Even if you just got your first ever driver’s license, do not scan it and post it on Facebook. Ever.
  19. Photo renditions (scanned copies) of prescriptions. (Despite what you may believe, your Facebook friends don’t need to know what meds you’re on.)
  20. Photos of other people’s children – taken or posted without their permission. A friend of mine recently found a photo of her daughter posted on a government website. In an attempt to save money, the web designer found photos of cute kids on Google and used them as generic art on the website. (It’s not legal, but it happens). She got the photo removed, but prior to that incident, she had no idea the photo was even on line.
  21. Photos of your friends or loved ones that may compromise their future. You can inadvertently jeopardize others’ safety and job prospects by posting inappropriate photos of them.

Think about the repercussions of every single photo you post. The general rule is to keep it clean and professional. If you wouldn’t show it to your boss, your grandma, your favorite teacher AND the local preacher, don’t post it on line. What seems funny today could cost you a job, a contract or a college admission tomorrow.


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

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