With Freedom, Responsibility


A birthday calls for celebration and reflection. And our nation’s birthday is no exception.

It’s a perfect day to be thankful for the many freedoms we enjoy in the USA. As a communicator, I believe our freedom of speech is particularly profound.

When our founders penned the Declaration of Independence 239 years ago today with its reference to the right to pursue happiness, they likely could never have imagined today’s world of social media, 24/7 news cycles and Sunday morning talk shows.

It’s distressing and frightening to hear about bloggers in other parts of the world who are sentenced to cruel and unusual punishments because they have dared to share their views.

That’s a right we are fortunate to have every day in America. However, freedoms come with a flip side called responsibility.

Words have impact. They can build people up. Or they can tear them down. Sure, according to the letter of the law you can post hurtful, snarky or even untrue content online. But why would you? What point does it serve? How does it make the world a better place?

Do you want to make the world’s problems worse? Or do you want to be part of the solution? As a realistic optimist, I like to believe people would overwhelmingly vote for the latter.

A very public figure in a recent TED talk on the price of shame called for a return to empathy and compassion. The talk had a call for us to become “upstanders,” by speaking up and standing up for others.

That would improve our world in so many ways. Yes, you can say anything you want. But your words will have consequences, good or bad. And if they’re digital words, they will last forever. So think before you send, post or tweet.

Penelope Trunk had great advice in her webinar called Reach Your Goals by Blogging. For those wanting to develop their careers through blogging, her advice was simple: “just don’t write about where your security clearance goes.”

If you don’t work on a field where security clearances are required, it simply means to think about what’s confidential and sensitive information, and don’t blog about that.

That still leaves a myriad of interesting topics to write about. And it fits well with the Josh Ochs mantra I mentioned in How to Be Social.  If you keep it “light, bright and polite” in social media, as Josh recommends, you’ll be in good stead.

That doesn’t mean you have to be an online Pollyanna or avoid addressing big issues head on. But it does mean to think about discussing them in a constructive way, being balanced and looking for solutions.

This will become more and more important the more digital our world becomes. In The Reputation Economy, author Michael Fertik talks about how all kinds of decisions affecting you will be made in the future — based on the digital persona you either actively or passively create.

Make sure it’s the one you intend. Speak as freely as you like, but realize there will be consequences, good or bad.

One of my first bosses in corporate communications had great advice. Highlight the benefits of the company or the particular initiative, he said, and showcase it in a positive light. Tell the truth, act with integrity and address “what’s in it for the audience.”

With that said, how do you balance freedom and responsibility?

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Caroline Leach

Hi, I'm Caroline Leach. I help people and organizations tell their stories. I'm a Marketing VP at AT&T, a former Communications VP at DIRECTV and an alum of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. This blog, How to Build Your Career through Social Media, shows you how to build your personal brand, advance your career and embrace your future. It helps you promote your employer and your network too. Opinions expressed in this blog are my own. Your comments are welcomed and encouraged. I'd love to hear from you!

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