Why Even Your College Emails Matter to Your Online Reputation

evan spiegel photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/techcrunch/

evan spiegel photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/techcrunch/

Plenty of people have done things they regret in college. Racking up huge debts, taking embarrassing photos, or drinking way too much is regrettable, but not unusual. Of course, for most college grads, all of those moments you’d like to forget (or can barely remember) quickly fade away once you’ve left campus.

Not so for Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel. The tech executive, who created Snapchat with two friends at Stanford University, was the social chair of the Kappa Sigma fraternity. And as social chair, it seems that it was his job to write emails to coordinate and hype up his frat brothers for upcoming events — emails that reflected a frat boy personality that clashes with the professional image he’d like to present today.

Spiegel’s Reputation Crushed by College Emails

Unfortunately for Spiegel, Silicon Valley gossip blog Valleywag got access to the emails, and of course, published them. They’re about as bad as you might imagine. Referencing drugs, binge drinking, “sororisluts,” even urinating on a female friend, they’re full of language that is far from what you’d expect of a CEO:

“Did I just pee on Lily while assuming the big spoon position?”
“Note to self: don’t pee on Lily again.”
“sigma nu decided to stop being gay so they passed the torch to theta delt.”
“Get assassinated in the oval office with a shot to the face
Get high on Air Force One
Launch nuclear bombs from the Presidential Bunker
and dance at the Inaugural Ball.”
“I thought the whole point was to shoot lazers at fat girls…?”

spiegel fraternity email

spiegel fraternity email

spiegel fraternity email

spiegel fraternity email

Note: the fraternity was at one point kicked off of campus for violating Stanford’s Controlled Substances and Alcohol Policy.

This email leak comes at a painful time for Spiegel. He turned down $3 billion from Facebook and played hard to get scheduling a meeting with Mark Zuckerberg. He’s under fire for allegedly pushing out one of Snapchat’s founders, as well as major privacy concerns, FTC charges, and a New Year’s Day hack that revealed the names and phone numbers of 4.6 million users. He’s looking woefully inexperienced and unprepared these days, and these emails do nothing to reverse that image.

This all spells trouble for Spiegel, who, at just 24, he has been working to shake his image of immaturity — one that’s only underlined in the bro speak of his fraternity emails. In comments shared with Business Insider, Spiegel says he is “mortified and embarrassed” by the “idiotic emails.” He is also careful to distance himself from his frat boy past, explaining that the messages do not reflect who he is today:

“I’m obviously mortified and embarrassed that my idiotic emails during my fraternity days were made public. I have no excuse. I’m sorry I wrote them at the time and I was jerk to have written them. They in no way reflect who I am today or my views towards women.”

What Spiegel’s Emails Mean for the Future of Snapchat

Will the excitement of Spiegel’s emails all blow over in a few weeks’ time? Maybe. But experts suggest that the comments he made in his email blasts — especially the misogynistic ones — may spell trouble for Snapchat with advertisers, investors, and corporate partnerships. Will female CEOs (or anyone who respects women) really want to work with a man who publicly objectified women and admitted to drunkenly urinating on a female friend while she slept?

Trusted brands may not be interested in aligning themselves with a company that shows hints of maintaining a frat boy vibe. At best, they’re likely to hesitate pouring millions of dollars into a company with a CEO that has a questionable reputation.

As we’ve seen previously, CEO reputation steers the future of companies, and only continues to grow in importance. Research shows that 49% of a company’s overall reputation is attributed to the CEO’s reputation. Further, media stories written about CEOs tend to influence the tone of press for the entire organization. Meaning, companies with CEOs that get bad press will continue to have bad press, whether it’s about the CEO or not. This is especially painful, as 60% of a company’s market value is attributed to reputation.

Clearly, Spiegel’s college fun has dealt a serious blow to Snapchat. Will he resign? No word yet: Bloomberg reports that a spokeswoman for Snapchat declined to comment on his job status. Other tech CEOs with troublesome reputations have stepped down in recent months, including Brendan Eich of Mozilla, and RadiumOne CEO Gurbaksh Chahal, Rap Genius Cofounder Elliot Rodger, who all had personal reputation challenges that threatened the future of their companies.

In a Digital World, Mistakes Can Follow You for a Lifetime

In Spiegel’s apology, he highlights that the comments in his emails no longer reflect who he is. Has he really grown up so much in just five years? Maybe — after all, he’s now at the helm of a company valued in the billions. But whether or not he’s moved on and grown out of his “certified bro” status isn’t the most important point. These emails are from a past that Spiegel probably considers to be distant, yet they are still available (and damaging) today, and that’s a lesson that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Not everyone is a high profile Silicon Valley tech executive, but we are all vulnerable to a leak like this. With the ubiquity of email and practically unlimited storage, messages can be saved as long as we want them to be. That means emails you send today can be shared publicly tomorrow — even five, ten years from now.

Spiegel was sending casual emails to frat brothers — his friends. It probably never occurred to him that they’d be anything more than fun messages designed to develop social fun for the fraternity. He also probably thought they’d be private forever, shared only among the fraternity (instead of the world).

But the reality of online messaging is much different. Take a look at Spiegel’s emails and note that they’re not sent to individuals, but rather, entire mailing lists containing any number of people. Some of them were sent to pledge lists: people who may not have ever actually become one of Spiegel’s trusted frat brothers. Of course the emails got leaked: Spiegel showed no sense of privacy or understanding that one day, his messages of bro culture might come back to haunt him.

Remember: Nothing Digital is Private

Ironically, Snapchat is designed to make potentially embarrassing or regrettable messages like Spiegel’s more private. With the app, users can send photos or notes that are automatically deleted after a set period of time, usually 5 to 10 seconds. As TechCrunch points out, Spiegel is his own ideal user: if his emails had disappeared like Snapchat messages, we wouldn’t have seen them today.

But it’s important to remember that in the digital age, even seemingly private messages can be exploited. Photos can be saved, emails can be stored, Google Hangouts recorded, and Snapchats can be screenshot before they self-destruct. Anything you say or do online can be saved, putting your reputation at risk.

Your Reputation Matters Before You Even Realize You Have One

Spiegel clearly wasn’t thinking of his reputation back in his college years. This illustrates a painful, but important, fact: your reputation doesn’t start when you decide to begin building one. You’re constantly developing your reputation whether you’re ready to give it attention or not. Spiegel obviously didn’t think that the emails he wrote would ever be associated with his professional image, yet here we are today, discussing the impact his bro speak has on his persona as a CEO. Your reputation is always under development, whether you realize it or not.

College students, even high school students, should be aware of their reputation, and concerned with building — or at least protecting — a strong reputation for the future. As Spiegel’s situation illustrates, even boyhood indiscretions can be made public today.

Learning from Spiegel’s Mistake

Young adults today have thankfully become more aware of privacy and online reputation than Spiegel was. After all, teens are ditching Facebook and flocking to Snapchat, where messages are less permanent and potentially damaging. But is there any way to successfully avoid an embarrassing email leak like Spiegel’s? Here are a few options:

  • Be respectful of others, always: The biggest problem the public has with Spiegel’s emails is his sexually explicit objectification of women. There’s no magic trick to avoiding this trouble: just be respectful of everyone. It’s never acceptable to make hurtful comments based on race, gender, sexual orientation, appearance, or religion, and showing disregard for others does not reflect well on your reputation.
  • Don’t put it in writing: While it’s best not to say anything hurtful or potentially embarrassing at all, if you must say it, say it where your thoughts aren’t likely to be recorded for posterity. Reserve stupid comments for in person conversations, or phone calls (but remember that even those can be recorded and shared).
  • Ask friends and family to respect your privacy: Your college years may involve potentially embarrassing moments that you’d be mortified to see on screen years down the road. Don’t let them be captured. Have a serious conversation with your friends about respecting your privacy — and keeping keg stand videos off of the Internet.
  • Remember that the Internet never forgets: Always keep in mind that anything you share online may live on forever. Not just social media, but email, chats, and other messaging tools. Even in private messaging like Snapchat, there are still ways to make anything you say or post permanent.

While Spiegel’s emails are regrettable, they serve as a valuable lesson to all that building your reputation is a lifelong duty. Protect your reputation now with proactive action for the future.