Lucille Ball famously said, "I'd rather regret the things I've done than regret the things I haven't done."
It looks like America has a similar attitude, especially online. Fifty seven percent of Americans who use social media have posted or texted something that they regret. "One in six regret a post at least once a week, and these numbers vary depending on age, with 20 percent of Millennials (18 to 34) being the worst regular offenders," writes Shane Paul Neil for the Huffington Post.
A new YouGov Omnibus survey reveals that Americans who make social media mistakes are most often worried about looking foolish. Their second most common worry? Offending a friend.
Compared to two years ago, American are more concerned about how their social media activity might negatively affect their careers.
"The same survey found 14 percent are afraid they may hurt relationships with family or partners by sharing misguided images or messages," writes Neil. "As it turns out, 24 percent of women were much more likely to worry about possible damage to their close relationships than men, at 18 percent. Racially, while men appear are more worried about the effect of such blunders on their career, than women, at 20 percent versus 8 percent, respectively."
So as conscientious social media users, how might we avoid appearing foolish, offending people and losing our jobs? The YouGov Omnibus survey also asked people about the circumstance of their social media mishaps.
Most commonly, people make mistakes when they are busy and respond too quickly. (Misspelled tweet, anyone?) People said they often regretted social media messages they wrote at home late at night. (Facebook wall post criticizing your brother-in-law's taste in shorts.) Or after drinking alcohol. (Facebook wall post criticizing your brother-in-law's taste in women.)
When social media mistakes occur varies largely depending on the age group you belong to.
A 2011 study called "I Regretted the Minute I Pressed Share," by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University looked at the kind of messages that people most often regret.
This study found that the most common Facebook regrets revolve around sensitive topics such as alcohol, sex, politics, religion or emotional content. "That includes posts about relationships, with profanity and/or negative comments," writes Elise Hu for NPR. "The study's title came from a respondent who posted a regrettable negative thought about a job interview."
The three sources of Facebook regret according to the Carnegie Mellon study are when a post reaches an unintended audience, when social media users fail to foresee consequences to a post, or when users don't understand privacy settings.
"Users often don't remember or know who might see their Facebook content," writes Hu. "In some cases, they were concerned only about their Facebook friends and not conscious of the fact that people outside their individual network would encounter the post."
A common source of regret is when a Facebook users expect a negative consequence but underestimate its severity. "Study participants used examples like posting and tagging photos of friends in states of inebriation, or posting messages or jokes that were racist or sexist, which in some cases led to professional ramifications," writes Hu.
Often, people who are not used to using Facebook or other social media accidently post things they don't mean to post.
The Carnegie Mellon researchers wrote:
"One survey respondent said, 'I accidentally posted a video of my husband and I having sex . . . I didn't mean to post it, I had accidentally clicked on the video of my daughter taking her first steps and on that video and they both uploaded together ... I didn't know I had posted it until the day after, when I logged on again, and saw all the comments from all of our friends and family, and my [husband's] coworkers (he's in the Army).'"
The Carnegie Mellon researchers found that the nature of online and offline regret is different. "Evidence from real-world-regret literature (yes, there are many studies in this area) show that what we regret in real life tends to be what we don't do - we regret inaction because of the fear of negative outcomes," writes Hu. "For example, when we regret not telling people how we really feel about them."
Research shows that Facebook users regret their action instead of inaction, "in which the impulsiveness of sharing or posting on Facebook may blind users to the negative outcomes of posts even if the outcome is immediate," the Carnegie Mellon researchers write.