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Careers Clinic: Will my ‘stupid’ past online haunt me?

John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
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My journey on social media has been similar to most actors I know. I initially didn’t see the point of it, then for a time I was obsessed with it.

Over the past year or two, I have got my various accounts to where they are useful for networking and keeping up with castings, but don’t distract from real life as much as they used to.

Where social media has been causing me anxiety recently is when reading the news about various performers on both sides of the Atlantic who have got into hot water and even lost out on parts because of previous online posts.

I’m not anywhere near the thousands-of-followers bracket yet, and I’m probably still a few years away from being in anything like the ‘public eye’.

But I do sometimes wish I hadn’t posted some of the stupid things I did when I was younger. Should I be worried about them coming back to haunt me?

John Byrne’s advice

I’m going to start off by advising you to do something that many cynics might assume actors are constantly doing: google yourself.

As well as flagging up potentially damaging information others might come across, on a much less dramatic note, it is common sense to make sure the brand you are creating for yourself is the one that comes across when casting directors, producers and other potential collaborators search to find out more about you.

When interviewing, producing and casting performers, I wouldn’t want to work with somebody who posts racist, misogynist or homophobic material. But, much more frequently, an online search has meant I can’t offer somebody an opportunity because the contact details are out of date. Tight deadlines mean somebody who has kept them current gets the gig.

I’m fully aware there are readers who will already be recoiling in disgust or derision at the idea of actors having to have a ‘brand’.

Like it or not, in this interconnected world, we all already have a brand, so it makes sense to know whether it is working for us, or against us. Even if potential employers don’t actively research our online activities, our details can still pop up when they are looking for something else.  With that in mind, there are two key things to consider. The first is that anything we post online, whether on social media, in a blog, in a ‘private’ post or in a direct message is never totally private.

The second is that it does not cease to exist once we move on to our next topic. The implication isn’t that we shouldn’t have the right to express our opinions, but that we do have to own what we say, and accept any reasonable consequences that might result.

If we feel the consequences are unreasonable, that’s where our agent, our union or other support may need to become involved. I would apply the same criteria to past online activity.

If you go back through your posts and find some you wouldn’t want others to see, by all means, press ‘delete’. That could be anything from a self-tape that no longer reflects your best work to a viewpoint you once held but have now moved on from. I wouldn’t obsess over it, nor would I fall into the trap of trying to be somebody you are not.

Hypocrisy is never a good look, on or offline. As long as your current behaviour reflects who you are now, and if you’re open to offering honest apologies or explanations if you feel past behaviour merits it, most reasonable people won’t hold it against you.

Contact careers adviser John Byrne at dearjohn@thestage.co.uk or @dearjohnbyrne

John Byrne is also a writer, cartoonist, performer and broadcaster. Read his advice columns every Wednesday at thestage.co.uk/author/john-byrne

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