At this point in the social networking revolution, no one should have to tell me to clean up the photos on my Facebook page.
Yet there is it is: A large bearded man in traditional Mexican bandito garb, holding back my head and pouring a bottle of tequila down my throat.
This is not the wholesome image of clean living and sobriety I try to project to astute consumers of financial news. Not only does it make me look like a drunk, but a lazy drunk who has to outsource people from other countries to hold the bottle.
I now understand how bad things can happen to good people on Facebook. I now find myself sympathizing when I hear the steep prices some people have to pay for pictures on their pages -- from not getting jobs to just plain getting busted.
In September, a Virginia state judge ordered a man named Isaiah Lester and his lawyer Matthew Murray to cough up $722,000 for their respective roles in a Facebook photo cover-up.
Lester had filed a wrongful death lawsuit after his wife was killed in a highway accident with a cement truck. During the discovery phase, where both sides are allowed to collect information on each other, Murray told Lester to "clean up" his Facebook page. "We don't want blowups of this stuff at trial," he instructed, according to court documents.
One of the deleted photos showed Lester clutching a beer, wearing a T-shirt that read "I (heart) hot moms."
Now, most men, if they are honest at all, will freely admit that they love cold beer and hot moms, too. It's just that you don't want this photo on your Facebook page when you go before a jury to plead for damages as a grieving widower.
Lester and his attorney won a multimillion judgment, but shutting down Lester's Facebook page during discovery cost them dearly. Murray, in the end, had to resign from his law firm, too.
Andre Curry, a 21-year-old from Chicago, is paying a high price, too. He was indicted Tuesday on felony charges for a Facebook photo of his 22-month daughter. The photo depicted his baby bound and gagged with blue painter's tape. The caption beneath it read, "This is wut happens wen my baby hits me back." Curry's pastor explained to reporters that it was supposed to be a joke: "He thought it was funny."
It's funny, all right, until it makes headlines. Curry's shot is on par with a photo that Rachel Stieringer, a 19-year-old Florida mother, posted last year, that depicted her baby doing a bong. Florida officials drug-tested the 11-month-old and confirmed the child had not been smoking pot. But it was a really stupid photo and Stieringer was arrested after her story sparked widespread outrage.
Here's another winner: In May, 24-year-old Amy Marie Butler received a 12-year prison sentence for a Facebook photo of her target shooting. It wouldn't have been so bad, except that she was on probation for her part in a 2005 marijuana robbery. She wasn't supposed to be anywhere near a gun, but there she was, sporting a handgun.
Another photo you don't want posted on Facebook: All the ducks you just shot. Brandon Lowry, a 19-year-old hunter from Norco, La., was cited in November for shooting more than his limit thanks to the photo of his huge kill on Facebook. The offense is punishable by fines and jail time. So now who's the dead duck?
So far, the tequila shot photo hasn't landed me in any trouble, and there is an explanation. The man pouring the booze down my throat calls himself "Rambo." This is what he does at a beachside restaurant called "The Office" in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. He wears bullet belts across his barreled chest that are supposed to hold shot glasses. But he is often out of shot glasses, so he pours tequila straight down his customers' throats until they choke. It's just a folksy little tradition they have down there.
Now I am a guy who usually sets down the beer bottle whenever someone pulls out a camera so as to not end up on Facebook looking like a lush. In fact, I don't want to be photographed with anything in my hands. But somehow a witness to Rambo's New Year's Eve tequila assault managed to snap, post and tag this incriminating photo.
The shot took all of 1/15th of a second to shoot -- yet it freezes me for all posterity in what looks like a compromising portrait of cross-border debauchery.
My wife insists I untag it before someone important sees it and gets, you know, the wrong idea.
(Al's Emporium, written by Dow Jones Newswires columnist Al Lewis, offers commentary and analysis on a wide range of business subjects through an unconventional perspective. Contact Al at email@example.com or tellittoal.com)