Post regret: Ex-Rauner staffer warns SJ-O students about social-media pitfalls

Post regret: Ex-Rauner staffer warns SJ-O students about social-media pitfalls

ST. JOSEPH — Ben Tracy learned the hard way the price one can pay for inappropriate posts on social media.

Tweets he wrote as a high school student came back to cost him a high-profile job in Gov. Bruce Rauner's office, Tracy told St. Joseph-Ogden students during a presentation this week at the high school.

The event started with Tracy warning SJ-O students that he was about to share some regrettable tweets — authored by some of them — that he had tracked down using a simple search.

"It took me 10 minutes to find these," Tracy said as tweets from SJ-O students filled the screen behind him.

Tracy then went on to tell students what happened to him a year earlier, after he had graduated from college and started working for political campaigns. Among the positions he held — for less than 24 hours, anyway: a job as Rauner's "body man," the governor's own traveling personal assistant.

The itinerary for his first day on the job started at the governor's condo in Chicago, with stops in Mount Zion and Rockford.

As the governor's entourage arrived in Mount Zion, Tracy noticed he had multiple new Twitter followers, which he chalked up to people finding out about his new job.

But as they headed to Rockford, Tracy started getting text messages and direct messages on Twitter, all referencing a political blog that had unearthed tweets he had written while in high school.

His friends recommended he delete the tweets. But it was too late.

"I worked in politics, so I had a pretty good idea what would happen next," Tracy told the students. "The tweets were insensitive and homophobic. Things you should never say, much less post."

As this was happening, Tracy was still in the car with the governor headed to Rockford.

He got a call from another member of Rauner's team who asked him if he had written the tweets. While he couldn't remember typing them, he said, they did come from his account.

He could finish his first day, the staffer said. And then he would be let go.

Tracy recalls having to explain himself to the governor, his staff and the press about his actions. He also remembers having to sit outside the room in Rockford where Rauner held a press conference and drive back to Chicago in another car, as the governor's staff didn't want the two to be seen together.

When he returned home, Tracy called friends and family, hoping he would reach them before they saw it on the news.

His lesson? "The things you post, they do not go away," Tracy told SJ-O students. "And they could offend someone."

Tracy told students that 70 percent of employers and 35 percent of college admissions offices look at applicants' social-media activity. He encouraged them to use the online platforms to share positive articles, to network, to raise money for charity and to stay connected with family and friends.

Some of them were already doing it, he was happy to see in the form of messages of support for an ailing classmate.

"I saw a lot of positive stuff, which is awesome," he said. "Post more of that and less of the stuff I shared before."

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