Constructing an on-line identity is powerful tool, both socially and- eventually- professionally. It’s hard to imagine when you open your first facebook or instagram account and post that amazing selfie (the light was perfect) that you are starting a life-long trail of personal images, thoughts and even emojis that will follow you into your 40’s and beyond. The internet is such a commonplace, every day tool for social interaction and research that it’s sometimes hard to fathom that it can also be used against you! Whether you plan to apply to college, a part time job, or to be the future President of the United States or Late Night talk show host, it’s critical to be aware of the persona you are putting out into the word via the web. You will see yourself again someday- frozen in time as a 15 year old. You’re pretty great, but you might not want your 1-D obsession following you to law school.
Social media can be- and should be- fun. Creating an on-line identity is one place where you can truly show yourself as you want to be seen, post pictures and share music you love, and express yourself to friends and loved ones. That said, keep it sleek and savvy! Tidy your digital trail so only the things you don’t mind sharing with the world can be seen. Importantly, keep it kind. Words hurt, and they can hurt permanently when you post something mean or scandalous on-line. What you post can be deleted, sure- but it actually never goes away.
Here are 5 Tips for Keeping it Clean in an Era of Over-sharing (hint: no one wants to see a picture of your busted toenail from soccer practice, and no one should be exposed to a rant about the guy you find obnoxious in History class.)
1. Know Your Friends. Sure you thought that guy from Taco Bell was adorable last year, but nothing happened with it and he’s still in your newsfeed, constantly posting gross motorcycle crash videos. Sorry, but time to snip him from the list. Keeping your circle of friends to a selective crew is important to keeping your information safe. You don’t want creepers knowing when your family will be out of town for vacation, or when you’re home alone for the night watching re-runs of Girls. Rule of thumb: if you haven’t spoken to or interacted with that person in a year, *snip-snip-snip*.
2. Tidy your social media history. While anything you post on social media never truly goes away, you can at least do a little spring cleaning to try your best, or at least bury it as far down as it can go in a basic search. Go through old posts and photos- delete or edit the things you wish you hadn’t quite said, or remove or un-tag pictures of you or others that could be construed as hurtful or embarrassing down the line. Recent research suggests that 70% of job recruiters rejected candidates based on information they found online!
3.Check- and double check- your privacy settings. Social media platforms make money by sharing the data you share. You love Taylor Swift? Facebook knows this, and they inform companies who want to sell you everything from the clothes you wear to the skin products you use. Social media profits from advertising, and these sites depend on you to reveal just a little too much about yourself. It’s part of the deal- nothing is free. Social media is not actually yours: it’s owned by someone else, as is everything you post. If that isn’t bad enough, when your privacy settings aren’t strong, you are an open book to more than just big corporations. Many a tale of an admission counselor noting a mean tweet from a prospective student about a tour guide while visiting their college, or seeing an applicant with a red solo cup drinking alcohol at a party, has surfaced. And guess what? Those students weren’t accepted. Search your account settings and make sure you’re as private as Beyonce’s powder-pink bathroom.
4. Google yourself often. You will be stunned what exists on the internet about you already; that t-ball championship you won in first grade; the honor roll list you made as a sophomore; a picture of you with your three best friends from summer camp six years ago. You see, it doesn’t even have to be posted by you to make it out into the public in a general internet search. Even if your privacy settings are tight, other people’s aren’t- and tagging people in images or status’ is common. Untag yourself in unwanted material as often as possible. Importantly, work hard to establish a positive digital trail- make the honor roll, volunteer at a local animal shelter, star in the school’s play. This stuff will build up a powerful on-line resume, and hopefully push down that picture of you with poison ivy at summer camp.
5. Be thoughtful: Think before you post. This step is perhaps the hardest to follow through with, and the one rule that gets people in the most trouble- from celebs to brands and politicians. As once media PR guru Justine Sacco learned the hard way, one tweet can bring down your entire career and leave you hiding for your life! How many times have you heard the expression, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it at all?” Yeah. Just don’t. Also, cyberbullying is the absolute worst thing you can do. Stand up for yourself and others, put positivity out into the world, and you’ll be all set.
Have you ever posted something and regretted it? Find yourself in a google search in a way that surprised you? Share in the comments below!
For more resources on social networking safely, visit StaySafeOnline.org.