Joel Lee, a writer from Philadelphia, said it so well in an article he wrote for almost a year ago: “One wrong social media post can ruin your life for good.”

Whether it’s an edgy tweet that gets taken out of context (and riles up an online mob against you) or a badly-timed joke in poor taste (which lands you in prison), one mistake could send your life spiralling in an unexpected direction”.

1. Slander and flames

Joel Lee describes slander as “a malicious and defamatory statement made by an individual against another person” and flames as “incendiary messages that attack the character of another person”.

These easily-made comments can have devastating consequences for those who make them.

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Call to memory the recent case of Penny Sparrow, the former estate agent from KwaZulu-Natal who received a R5 000 fine, or 12 months’ imprisonment earlier this year for racist comments that she made on Facebook. Further, the Equality Court Magistrate Irfaan Khalil ruled that Sparrow had to pay R150 000 to the Oliver and Adelaide Tambo Trust to atone for her posting.

She has been left destitute and in fear of her life after the publicity and legal proceedings that ensued.

You should not post anything that you would not say to a person’s face or be happy to display on a billboard alongside the N2

2. Self-incrimination

There are countless stories of the person who updated her WhatsApp profile pic, using a photograph of herself wearing sunglasses she stole from a colleague, or of the person whose affair became public knowledge after a photograph of him kissing someone other than his wife was posted on Facebook, or of the client who was offended because he found out through a Tweet that you lied about why you could not attend his meeting.

You cannot hide once news has been posted on social media as messages can quickly spread beyond the initial platform.

In 2014, a mother from Colorado took a photograph of her daughter holding a sign that said “Mom is trying to show me how many people can see a picture once it’s on the Internet,” sharing it with all her friends and asking them to like and share for the sake of the parenting lesson.

The plan worked! In just 48 hours the photo accrued over one million likes as image board 4chan got hold of it and turned it into a meme.

3. Inappropriate jokes

A number of sensitive topics are featured in jokes that circulate on social media; topics like racism, rape, disability and religious beliefs.

Our citizens are protected against discrimination by our Constitution. It is a serious affair. Violating those rights by sharing inappropriate jokes can have devastating effects beyond our immediate surrounds.

Madeline Wahl is an Associate Editor, Blogs and Community at The Huffington Post. She outlines how rape jokes contribute to a rape culture. The same can be said for racist jokes. And the same can be said for anti-Semitic or anti-any-religion jokes.

You play a part in building our communities and our country. Inappropriate jokes can contribute to breaking our communities and our country

You play a part in building our communities and our country. Inappropriate jokes can contribute to breaking our communities and our country.

Heed the words of Joel Lee, “It’s important to remember that social networks are public, and there are consequences for what you post – even if your intentions aren’t malicious.”