This is the time of year when baseball fans usually are discussing the trade deadline or potential playoff matchups, but this year, a new topic entered the conversation: old Twitter posts.
For those who may not be following this story, during last month’s Major League Baseball All-Star game, Milwaukee Brewers relief pitcher Josh Hader found himself on the hot seat after a Twitter user shared several old tweets by Hader that included racist, sexist and homophobic language. Hader was 17 at the time of the posts and wouldn’t make the major leagues for several more years, but the damage the old tweets did to his otherwise sterling reputation was instantaneous. Suddenly Hader’s old tweets were the talk of the baseball world, and they led to a team meeting in which he apologized and took responsibility for his past mistakes.
Since the Hader story broke, two other major leaguers – Sean Newcomb of the Atlanta Braves and Trea Turner of the Washington Nationals – have also come under scrutiny for similarly offensive old tweets. Such public relations snafus have some experts cautioning athletes to “scrub” their old Twitter accounts of potentially offensive posts, or even to delete old accounts altogether. But professional athletes aren’t the only ones under pressure to answer for their old tweets. Movie director James Gunn was recently removed as director of Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3 after old tweets surfaced of him joking about rape and pedophilia.
A (semi-)permanent record
As an investigator, it comes as no surprise at all when old social media posts come back to haunt famous individuals. The ease and relative anonymity afforded by social media makes many users (not naming any names) post anything and everything they think might be amusing or interesting at that moment. And unless it’s posted privately or later deleted, the post never really goes away, even if the author has long forgotten about it.
Many of the subjects we conduct due diligence investigations on have impressive resumes and well-polished corporate profiles. But when we look at their social media, we sometimes find off-color jokes or political invective that may raise alarm bells for our client. In some cases, social media posts like these make all the difference.
For example, while doing a routine investigation of a client’s potential hire, we found the man’s Facebook account, which included many recent posts that portrayed him as a stable, professional young man. But a review of his older posts found several photos of him drinking and partying as a teenager along with references to doing drugs.
In another case, the subject, a successful executive, appeared to have a perfectly wholesome social media account, until we started looking back a few years. That’s when we found photos he’d posted of himself looking up women’s skirts and making lewd comments on other photos of women.
Finally, there was the investigative subject who seemed rather unremarkable – until we found old social media posts in which she advertised her dominatrix services. Needless to say, this was a real eye-opener for our client, and for us.
Examples like these show why social media is such a powerful tool for investigators. They bring to mind the old saying: Character is what you do when no one is watching.