From Facebook to Jail

By Ofer Zur, Ph.D.


Consider anything you post on Facebook (and online in general) to be written on your forehead.

Help yourself and your clients (young clients and their parents) understand the significance of online transparency.

Some of us are overly concerned with privacy in the digital era, refusing to buy things online with a credit card or join social networking sites. Others among us, particularly young people (therapists and their clients), are often too free with what they post and give out online.

Transparency is, obviously, very important for psychotherapists and counselors. What prospective clients can find out about us online, including our Facebook Profiles and Pages, often determines whether they decide to call us for an initial interview. Online information can also impact the course of therapy, a therapist’s reputation, and employment opportunities in clinics or hospitals. Some experts and agencies have been exploring the ethical and legal ramifications of certain (non-professional) posting by therapists.

One young man landed in jail after prosecutors discovered pictures of him drinking on his Facebook page and dressed like a jailbird for Halloween while awaiting trial for a hit-and-run. This character evidence found on his Facebook wall was used successfully to push for his conviction and a stronger penalty. He received a sentence of two years in prison rather than the probation that was originally intended (USA Today).

Clearly, this sort of exposure of unkempt behavior is most easily avoided by acting respectfully at all times. But in lieu of that, given that people will err, it’s important to keep in mind that elements on one’s Facebook page or other social networking sites are accessible by those sufficiently motivated to discover the content you post. Privacy settings help a great deal, and we strongly recommend learning how to implement them, and using them thoughtfully. With the use of privacy settings, you can control who sees your pictures, posts, comments, wall, etc. However, privacy breeches are not uncommon. As one keen observer put it “Consider anything you post on Facebook to be written on your forehead.”


Here are some points to remember:

  • Interacting online is part of today’s culture. To refuse to engage online is to ignore or resist a large part of how people socialize and do business.
  • It is best to conduct yourself online with the courtesy you exercise offline. However, given the assumption of anonymity, it often becomes easy to slip up.
  • What people find out about you online can, and often will, be used against you. You cannot control everything online about you (as business owners know well) but it behooves you to control what you can.
  • Learn how to use privacy settings. While not foolproof, they are a good first line of defense.
  • Be selective about your online friends and associations. If you have untrustworthy friends who habitually re-post your posting or post offensive material, your reputation may be affected.
  • Many of the risks of sharing yourself online mirror the risks of sharing offline. The key is to educate yourself and be smart about how you live.
  • For more information, see this free online article: Online Transparency



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