If it ever seems like everyone around you uses technology and social media, that’s because most of them probably do. In the US alone, there are over 191 million Facebook users, 90 million Instagram accounts, and 66 million Twitter users, many of whom are high school and college students. While social media and technology (cell phones, computers and tablets) can prove invaluable in helping you keep up with people, it is important to think about how to best use these communication strategies. If not thought out properly, what you text, post, tweet, or snap today could have very real repercussions down the road. There’s a lot to consider, so keep reading for tips on how to get the most out of social media and technology while staying safe and appropriate.
You’ve probably seen a friend’s social media account or phone get “hacked” before. Someone else – usually a well-meaning friend – gets access to their account or phone and posts or texts something ridiculous for all to see. These pranks are largely harmless and, often, pretty funny, but they nonetheless point to a pitfall in many communication platforms. While it may feel like your accounts are entirely insulated, the reality is that they are more susceptible to misuse than you might think. Read on for some tips to keep your accounts and phone fun while keeping yourself safe.
- Use privacy settings to your advantage. Consider restricting the amount of information that you make available to the general public, keep your Instagram account private, or create a password for getting into your phone.
- Be smart in managing your connections. If someone threatens you, unfriend, block, or report them immediately. If you don’t know someone, don’t add them to your friend network. In general, keep your friend lists confined to people who you know and trust to behave appropriately on social media.
- Keep personal information personal! Don’t post, e-mail or text addresses, social security numbers, credit card information, private phone numbers, or other information you wouldn’t want in the hands of a stranger.
Let’s be honest, as you approach the end of high school and maybe head off to college you may very well find yourself in a situation or two that is less than professional. There’s nothing wrong with having fun during this time in your life, but most employers aren’t too keen on hiring people who post inappropriate things on their social media accounts. Read on for some quick tips to stay appropriate and professional on social media.
Tips for staying appropriate on social media
- Be mindful of what you post. In general, only post things you would be willing to show to your teachers, parents, or boss. That means avoiding profanity, offensive statements, charged political messages, etc.
- Avoid posting inappropriate photos, and don’t be afraid to untag yourself. If alcohol is visible in a photo of you, you should probably untag yourself. If a photo of you features any inappropriate activity, untag yourself. Again, if you wouldn’t want your future boss to see it, it probably shouldn’t be on your social media account.
- Check out this list for a more in-depth breakdown of do’s and don’ts for professionalism in social media posts.
Like it or not, your real life reputation with friends and acquaintances is largely based on your virtual persona, so be thoughtful with the way you present yourself over e-mail, text and social networks! Read on to learn tips about how to best present yourself virtually.
Tips for protecting your reputation
- Avoid posting insulting comments or behavior. Nothing posted to social media is private, and offensive or rude posts exist for all to see. Today’s rant, insult, or roast might come back to haunt you.
- Use good judgement when texting or e-mailing personal photos. Once you click send, the pictures become public and the recipients can share them with others.
- Be selective about who you follow and friend. People often look at someone’s friends and followers as a quick way to get a feel for what that person is like. If you wouldn’t want to be seen with them in real life, you should consider steering clear of them online.
- Treat social media like an in-person conversation. If you wouldn’t insult someone’s appearance or religion in person, don’t do it on Facebook. If you wouldn’t argue with someone in real life, don’t start a Twitter flame war with them. You get the idea.
If you're worried about a friend's posts
While we are discussing social media and safety, sometimes a friend may post something on social media that sounds like they are dealing with some kind of difficulty, are stressed out, down, worried about something, or even thinking about doing something dangerous or self-harm. When you notice something like this it is really great to reach out to them: call them or try to speak to them in person. If after talking to them you are still worried, speak to an adult who might be able to lend you some guidance or give your friend some support. If you can’t connect directly or get other support for your friend or are really worried and aren’t sure what to do, you should be aware that many of the large social media platforms have security/safety pages that you can alert about a concern (See Facebook's Special Types of Reports). They are able to take steps to find help or support for your friend.
In general, treat interactions online, via text and social networks like real, in-person actions. You would never hand your credit card information to a stranger or show your boss a picture of you drinking with your friends. Interacting online may feel different than these real-world scenarios, but the consequences can be virtually identical. So yes, use technology as much as you want to be social and stay connected with your friends and family, just be smart while you do it!
Learn more about socializing safely online here.