Last week’s media firestorm over incendiary tweets by a former Cleveland Clinic resident wasn’t the first time years-old posts resulted in a career-destroying climax.

And it won’t be the last, says University of Akron associate professor Julie A. Cajigas.

Cajigas said that Dr. Lara Kollab’s controversial tweets — especially one in which Kollab suggested she would prescribe the wrong medications for Jewish patients — are especially egregious, representing the extreme end of offensive content. Most inappropriate content in the digital world of Twitter and Facebook is far less malicious.

Cajigas, who teaches social media in the university’s School of Communication, said her experience shows that teens and young adults commonly post things online that will come back to haunt them, even if their postings don’t sink to the level of the Kollab tweets.

Young adults “don’t recognize the potential for [their posts] becoming a viral tweet,” Cajigas said

Kollab worked several months last year at the clinic until her tweets were discovered by the hospital. Months later, the Westlake resident saw her name and tweets go viral. Even though Kollab posted under an assumed name, an organization that researches toxic posts found the tweets and publicized them.

Kollab issued an apology last week, saying in part: "These posts were made years before I was accepted into medical school, when I was a naïve, and impressionable girl barely out of high school. I matured into a young adult during the years I attended college and medical school, and adopted strong values of inclusion, tolerance, and humanity."

Young people might think posts and tweets can remain private. Not so, said Cajigas. It’s nearly impossible to keep material and opinions on social media away from prying eyes.

“You lose control of your statements once they are published on Twitter,” Cajigas said. “Nothing that you have posted is ever private . . . and it lives forever.”

The implications are far-reaching and especially powerful in the workplace. Posts far less offensive than Kollab’s may not destroy a career, but they can play into a prospective employer’s hiring decision and cause considerable long-term damage.

Nearly three-fourths of all employers use social media to screen candidates, according to a 2017 Harris Poll conducted for CareerBuilder; in 2006, only 11 percent of employers did so. Half of all employers monitor employees’ social media profiles, according to the survey, and one-third have disciplined or fired an employee for inappropriate content.

There are legal restrictions to the actions a company can take against employees who post online. Material that the employer finds offensive may not be actionable. It might not even be offensive to most people. But the CareerBuilder poll shows that what young people do as a student will stay with them long after high school and college are finished. The Kollab incident is a recent, very public, example.

“I would think that the lesson is, don’t post anything on Twitter you wouldn’t say in a live interview,” Cajigas said.

Many school districts, including Akron, Cuyahoga Falls and Stow, have social media policies for students and employees. The policies vary in language, but are similar in what they forbid. Don’t cyberbully, don’t plagiarize, don’t post objectionable material. The policies are clear, but they often aren’t producing college students savvy in the strengths and dangers of social media.

Cajigas said schools need to do a better job teaching young students about the pitfalls of social media — from cyberbullying to sexting to offensive posts.

“I think there’s a major need for early education in media literacy …. from a social media standpoint,” she said.

And parents need to be involved in their children’s phone and social media usage.

“I don’t think parents are afraid enough,” she said.

As an assignment for her students, Cajigas requires a personal report. One student must research another online through Google and social media and make a presentation on the subject of the research. Students are often surprised by what they find. Even if the content is not offensive or objectionable, it may be embarrassing.

“You need to know what’s online about you and you need to manage what you’ve put online,” Cajigas said. “I encourage them to Google themselves.”

As Kollab’s story vividly portrays, a mistake made early online can last for life. After Kollab’s tweets went viral, she issued a profuse apology on Friday through her lawyer. But the damage was done, and will likely last, Cajigas said.

“I’m not sure how you come back from certain things,” she said.