One of the ways that candidates running for office often get beat is when the past comes back to haunt them. Perhaps it’s a past lover scorned who’s come back for revenge. Maybe it’s a tax lien or court case you didn’t think anyone would find. Or it could simply be something you yourself posted on a social media platform.
I graduated high school in 1990 and college in 1995. My friends and I often comment that we’re glad we came to age when we did. Despite the conveniences we lacked like email, iPhones, and Microsoft Word, the evidence of our sophomoric misadventures lives on only in our memories for the most part.
For anyone who came of age after Y2K however, that’s not the case.
YouTube, Facebook, and smart phones are now integrated throughout our culture. With that, many photos and videos now exist of normal people having good times for all the world to see.
Sometimes the subjects of such shared moments are even under the influence of alcohol.
Now if you’re of age is there really anything wrong with that?
Unless you’re acting like a completely unreasonable, vulgar, bigoted, misogynistic jackass probably not. Some might even say after last year’s presidential election that even that doesn’t matter. I wouldn’t be so sure.
When you run for office, people will always go looking for dirt on you. Sometimes they will pay professionals to do it. My former business partner and I broke into the political consulting world because of our opposition research abilities.
He was notorious for being able to find things that no one else could. I earned the reputation of being able to take that information and demonstrate to a candidate how best to use it against their opponent.
And that was all before either of us had any social media accounts.
Now that everyone is hyperactive and showing off on social media, there’s even more information for researchers and obsessive volunteers to sift through, download, and use against candidates when they run for office.
Just ask Jon Ossoff.
Jon Ossoff as you should recall was the super-funded candidate anointed to win the special election in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District. But Ossoff didn’t fit the district and lost the race as I detailed in this article.
One of the ways the Republicans beat Ossoff was through solid opposition research. They found videos of him on social media and made commercials ridiculing him.
This particular commercial worked in three ways.
First, it reminded voters of Ossoff’s youth, which was already an issue in the campaign.
Second, it attacked his resume that he’d already been attacked on for inflating.
Third, it just made it very difficult for swing voters to take Ossoff seriously. Voters have a hard time casting a ballot for someone that they can’t take seriously.
So what is a candidate to do to prevent such attacks against them during the heat of a campaign?
1) Don’t share anything on social media you think could be used against you.
This prohibition includes photos, videos, and even written updates. If it could be used either in or out of context to attack you, it’s best to keep it to yourself.
When a candidate finds themselves explaining an action or a comment, the candidate often finds themselves losing an election too.
If you even wonder whether or not to put something out there on social media, there’s a good chance you shouldn’t. Listen to Jimeny Cricket and follow the sage advice of your conscience.
Yes this is contrary to what many social media marketing experts say. They tell you to share everything and be authentic. As a political candidate you can’t use that strategy.
As a candidate, you have to live and operate by another set of rules. Rules that protect your credibility and your reputation.
Let your opponent post away on Facebook and Instagram while you screen capture and download their lack of discretion and use it against them at a future date.
2) Delete anything on social media you think could be used against you.
Do this long before you run. Do it even before you tell anyone you’re going to seek an office.
Go through your photos, videos, and status updates and delete anything you don’t want to see in a mailer or commercial attacking you.
This includes not just stupid photos by ones as well.
I used to have people take pictures of candidates at public events simply to have a nasty photo of them for a mailer. A still shot of a candidate talking always provides a picture of them looking like a dufus.
But with social media, I don’t have to do that much work anymore. Now I look first to Facebook. 9 out of 10 times I can find a photo of the candidate not looking their best and use that against them.
Also, if there are any photos or videos of you holding an alcoholic beverage or smoking, get rid of them. Such photos can easily be used to paint you as a not so nice person to the voters.
3) Be prepared for what you’ve deleted to already have been collected
Have you ever noticed how the news always seems to have the inappropriate tweet that someone deleted once they realize they’ve stuck their iFoot in their mouth?
That’s because their opponents are always watching what they are doing. Believe the same is true of the things you delete.
Someone has them and when they time is right they’ll use them against you.
There’s no way to prevent that other than to be very aware of what you choose to share and what you don’t on social media.
Like Brad Paisley says in one of his newest songs, #selfie – The Internet is Forever.