Technology can make your life convenient . . . too convenient. Comfort can get the best of you and embarrassing things can happen. You'll send emails to the wrong person or accidentally make a private post public. These simple little errors can have disastrous effects, but you can implement a safety net to try and avoid the horrible shame of a technological faux pas.
Most mistakes can be avoided with a little forward thinking, but even the best of us can get overwhelmed or lazy. We don't always think through our actions because that requires a constant level of vigilance that no human can master.
I have a friend who went on an uncomfortable date. The guy he was seeing was driving recklessly and acting nuts. Rather than telling his date, he sent a text message to another friend describing the situation -- or at least he thought he did. The date received it while driving, and it was pretty awkward.
Fortunately, this sort of situation can be avoided. In this post, we'll look at how you can prevent and undo these sorts of embarrassments.
Smartphone users can use special apps to avoid sending the wrong message -- apps that delay everything you send in order to give you time to undo if you realise you made a mistake. Android users can pick up Undo SMS and use that as their primary text messaging app.
iPhone used to have an app called SMS Undo, but it no longer exists. Now you have to jailbreak in order to get this functionality. SMS Delay and confirmSMS (search for them in the Cydia store on your jailbroken iDevice) both help you avoid sending a message you don't want to send. Alternatively, service apps such as Inbox don't use SMS but do allow you to send messages with undo capability.
Whichever one you choose, undo apps don't provide you with unlimited time to fix your mistakes and you also may not like using them when compared to the default option. If that's the case, you're not entirely out of luck.
If you start sending a message and realise you've made an error, just quickly turn on Airplane Mode to cut off any connections to the message can't get out. The latest versions of both Android and iOS offer quick toggles through the notification drawer and Control Center (respectively) so you can put a stop to that message fast. It will fail to send and you can choose to delete it before turning airplane mode off.
Emails can prove more difficult to undo in many situations, as you rarely see the sending process. In the case of webmail, the message disappears as soon as the webapp makes its first attempt at delivery and then the damage is done. Because emails get delivered by copying your message to your recipient's server, deleting anything on your end doesn't really solve the problem. Once the copy gets to them, there is very little you can do.
Fortunately, if you use Gmail, you can set a time delay to allow you to undo a message. To enable this feature, just go to your Gmail settings, then to the Labs section, and enable Undo Send. Whenever you send a message through the Gmail webapp, it will give you the opportunity to click a "Cancel" link to stop it from going out if you suddenly realise you made an error. This won't solve all issues, but it can help.
Microsoft Outlook offers a different feature called Recall. It doesn't create a send delay, but actually sends a request to delete the message on the recipient's server. You can even replace the deleted copy with a new message if you like. It won't always work, but you can click a little checkbox to find out if it does. If you need to recall a message in Outlook, simply find the sent email, locate "Other Actions" on the ribbon, and choose "Recall This Message".
Social Network Messages
People make all sorts of mistakes on social networks, and sending the wrong message to the wrong person is just one of them -- especially if that wrong person happens to be everyone on the entire internet. In one infamous example, US politician Anthony Weiner derailed his political career with one little Twitter typo. You may not have as much to lose, but a few precautions can prevent most embarrassments -- both big and small.
Good privacy settings can prevent most accidental messages from going public on Facebook. Simply set your default to complete and total privacy like this:
- Click the gear icon in the upper-right hand corner of any Facebook page.
- Choose Privacy Settings.
- In the "Who Can See My Stuff?" section, you'll see an option called "Who Can See My Posts?" To the right it should read the answer: Public, Friends, etc. Click edit to change this and select "Only Me" from the drop-down list of options.
This will make your posts pretty much invisible to everyone else by default, so you have to explicitly choose to post publicly (or semi-publicly) each time. For many people, an added confirmation can stop us from accidentally sharing something we don't want anyone else to see. For more on how you can manage your Facebook privacy settings better, check out our complete Facebook privacy guide.
As for private messages, while you can delete them after sending, the recipient will still get them. Why? Because Facebook made an essentially useless delete feature that doesn't really help anybody. That means you'll have to be extra-diligent when sending private messages to friends, as we can't find any software to help stop you from making a mistake or undoing a mistake you've already made. You still have your brain, however, and later suggestions in this post will help you use it to avoid errors software can't help you prevent.
Twitter provides a few more options than Facebook. You can always delete a message from public view, so if you tweet something you'd rather take back you can (mostly). The same goes for direct messages. Of course, once people see it you can't remove it from their memory so easily, but this works well for resolving errors you notice immediately.
Delayed Posting on All Networks
If you want plenty of time to think through your social messages -- not those of the private and direct variety -- you can employ a scheduled posting service such as Buffer. It allows you to set a schedule for every day of the week so you know exactly when a tweet or status update will go out. You can then set messages to schedule automatically so you have the opportunity to double-check everything you've planned to say. Depending on your choices, you can give yourself minutes, hours, or days to review these messages and avoid a post you don't want to make.
When All Else Fails
Despite all of these suggestions, if you find you send problematic texts and emails too often you need to develop some better habits. Before you press the send button, stop and look. Read everything before you send it, and double-check the name of the recipient. You may forget to do this a few times, but the more you make a conscious effort to remember the more you'll actually remember. This won't prevent mistakes, but it'll help you avoid them more often and not have to rely on apps and features that won't always solve the problem either.
In the event you screw up and send something really terrible you essentially have two choices: pretend it was a joke and hope the recipient believes you or -- my preference -- tell the truth and apologise. Mistakes happen, we say stupid things when we think the wrong person won't hear us, and almost everyone can find their to a place of forgiveness if you give them a reason to do so. My friend who sent a bad text to his date tried to hide it at first but eventually owned up to the error. It didn't end up causing any (further) problems.