These days, aspiring authors and writers are trying to carve an online presence to break through the white noise of obscurity. We talk a lot about online platforms here at WU, as a matter of fact. But as more and more people flood Twitter, message boards, and blogs, we’ve seen many instances of really smart writers acting reeeeaaaalllly stupid online.

It may seem like you are posting out in a void where no one is reading your blog, and where your snarky blog post or opinion will never come to light. Lemme tell ya, once it’s online, it can always be accessed by someone. Right here at WU, for instance, I never thought we’d have people going back and combing our archives to react to posts written years ago, but we do. Google cache can also bring up things you’d rather have left dead and buried. I’ve got a few cringeworthy things out there that I wish I could take back. But I can’t. I have to live with it. 

Here are a couple of rules that I’ve found helpful to keep in mind before I post. 

1. Never diss an industry professional online. You’ll never know when that person can impact your career years from now, even if they’ve made you screaming mad right this second.

2. Stay positive on Twitter. Twitter can be a great way to connect with people. But trash talking can make things go bad so quickly you’ll have to disable your account. See #1.

3. Don’t cross the line of personal if you don’t like an author’s book. You read it, you hated it. Fine. Most authors are a million percent aware that not everyone is going to like their work. But recognize that that’s all you can honestly comment on. You can’t comment on the author’s personal life or process in any way, because you just don’t know. And if you think that author isn’t going to find out about it if you do, think again.

4. Your snarky insider blog written anonymously isn’t going to stay anonymous forever. Someone always finds out. Always. 

5. It’s certainly okay, desirable even, to weigh in on controversies or differences of opinion. I’ve found that the best way to do so is to preface the statement with an “I think” or “in my opinion” or the equivalent. A good discussion is just that, as long as it remains respectful. 

It pretty much boils down to this: online stupidity can last forever and haunt your career. If you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, don’t say it in an e-mail, Tweet, blog or message board rant. Imagine yourself at a party years from now when the object of your diss comes up to you and says, “So, I read that you said Mean Thing XXXX on your disabled blog seven years ago. Yeah, I haven’t forgotten.”

No one wants to have that conversation.

Have you seen instances where people should have stepped away from the computer before hitting the “submit” button? Have you done so? Where do you think people should draw the line? Let us know in the comments.

About Kathleen Bolton

Kathleen Bolton is co-founder of Writer Unboxed. She has written two novels under the pseudonym Cassidy Calloway: Confessions of a First Daughter, and Secrets of a First Daughter--both books in a YA series about the misadventures of the U.S. President's teen-aged daughter, published by HarperCollins. Her current project, Slumber, under the pen name Tamara Blake, released July of 2013 and is a dark suspense fantasy novel for teens.