Science of Work

Study: This is why Snapchat is bad for your career

A new study shows that “temporary” social media apps, like Snapchat, could be bad for your career.

By now, most of us have heard the horror stories of private social media posts going public. We know all too well how jobs can be lost and careers can be ruined by one ill-worded tweet. Ninety-three percent of us said we are aware that a recruiter can check our social media before hiring us.

And yet, most of us don’t opt out of social media altogether. We want to see that baby photo and we want to update our networks about our careers.

Ephemeral social media platforms, the kind that Instagram Stories and Snapchat offer, are marketed as the solution between the impulse to share personal information and the desire to stay discreet. After you post your selfies to Snapchat or Instagram Stories, these posts are built to self-destruct and disappear within a short timeframe.

But new research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America finds that these platforms carry their own career-ending risks as well: The researchers found that when you think your selfie is temporary, you are inclined to share riskier images that can “come back to haunt” you, because our brains don’t forget what they see — even in a disappearing snapshot image.

Lulled into taking more risks

In nine studies with a total of 2,000 participants, researchers found that the promise of temporary sharing more than triples the likelihood that you will share something “uninhibited” online — often to disastrous consequence. The researchers classified participants’ selfies as “uninhibited” behavior when the participants would be willing to use a silly or unusual face, stick out their tongue, or show nudity, drinking, or drug use.

Worse, we falsely think we think that the best medium to share a risky selfie is through temporary sharing because it will leave a better impression. Fifty-three percent of sharers in one study said that they would rather share a nude photo through a medium like Snapchat because it would leave a better impression than having that risqué photo exist permanently. But researchers found that the “impression made by a temporarily shared uninhibited selfie persists beyond its short life.”

The impressions linger

These bad impressions of your reckless, carefree selfie linger in our minds. Observers rating sharers said that uninhibited temporary selfies came across as having worse judgment, regardless of the selfie coming from a private channel. We’re not sympathetic to how discreet you were trying to be, in other words, if we’re put off by your behavior.

Watch what you share

“Although social media are increasingly becoming broadcast tools, sharers do not always treat them as such, sometimes acting as if they are sending private letters when really the situation is more akin to sending postcards on which messages are in plain sight,” the researchers conclude.

Prospective employers are not going to give your risky postcard complaining about work and bosses the benefit of doubt.

The researchers suggested that social media platforms should build “cooling-off” features into their products that allow users to delay the time between a post being sent and it going live for all to see. But that requires relying on a computer as your sympathetic editor.

Until technology platforms are built with second chances, you’ll have to be your own editor and think twice before you post.