I’ve been thinking quite a bit about social media and how to navigate it. I was having a conversation recently with a friend who’s teaching a college class, and a lot of the students are in their 20s/late teens. We got to talking about social media and how it’s useful for so many things, but can also be downright dangerous.
Part of that is because perceptions of privacy are so different now than they were when she and I were teens. I didn’t grow up with the ubiquitous intertoobz. Back in the 80s, the Web was nascent among average Americans, and I didn’t even send my first inter-office email until the summer of 1987, I believe it was. I was already in college. Which means I have no conception of posting a photograph in public so that random passers-by could see it and comment on it. That’s just not something I do.
When I was growing up, you interacted primarily face-to-face or via telephone. Because you interacted so much face-to-face, it was damn hard to be a douchecanoe. It’s a LOT harder to troll someone face-to-face in the real world than it is online. The interwebz offer anonymity and distance, both social and physical, and that’s just not something I had growing up.
Everybody knew who the people in town were who you had to avoid, and you did. You were polite enough, because you didn’t want those people following you home from the store if you pissed them off, but for the most part, you left them alone. It never entered my mind, at least, to go and harass somebody just because they were “weird” or “different” or just plain mean or because I was bored. And in order to do that when I was growing up, you had to confront someone directly or lurk outside their house. You couldn’t just hang out in a basement somewhere with a laptop to make someone’s life miserable.
So with that in mind, here are some things about social media that you might find useful. And yes, we are a “NOW NOW NOW” society. But stuff like this requires some introspection and some consideration of ramifications of your actions. Nothing new about that. We could all use a bit of introspection now and again.
1. Careful what photos you post.
I’m continually amazed at the pictures people will post of themselves online, and without privacy controls on their social media accounts, which means anybody and everybody can see. If you’re a young person hoping to score an awesome job, those photos you posted of you doing beer bongs at the frat party might not play in your favor. Companies check social media pages looking for stuff like that and when they see it, they might think that you’re not responsible enough to be professional and effectively represent the company. After all, if you’re willing to post photos like that of yourself, chances are you might not be able to keep company information private.
Also, think about the data-mining potentials that posting photos has. I don’t really like that idea, that corporations and social media are mining everything I post and collecting data on me. That’s creepy enough, without the added bonus of photos everywhere.
AND CAREFUL ABOUT POSTING PHOTOS OF YOUR KIDS OR OTHER PEOPLE’S KIDS. Think about down the line, when those kids are in high school and then adults. There are photos of them as kids and even babies circulating on the web. Yeah. That they didn’t put out there. Some of them might be embarrassing. Or create really awkward situations among peers and future employers. Or even lead to cyber-bullying. So be careful what you post about kids. Here are some links about that:
Why I won’t put my baby on social media
Check out what these parents did to ensure their child’s privacy. Seriously. Check that out.
And another link about posting photos not only of your own kids, but other people’s (hint: don’t)
2. Careful with the personal info you post.
Don’t post your birthdate, the state where you were born, your phone number, address, or email address online. Hell, even a pet’s name could be problematic. Here’s why:
“Social engineering is where attackers use whatever information they can glean from your public profiles – date of birth, education, interests – to try to get into your accounts on all sorts of services. Just imagine how easily someone can find out the name of your first pet or school from your Facebook profile, then think about how many services use them as security questions. Keep as much of your profile private as you can, and think twice before posting absolutely every aspect of your life.” LINK
3. Don’t knee-jerk on social media.
Especially if you’re pissed. Because once you post a comment that’s coming from being pissed or enraged or whatever, it’s out there and gathers steam, and you may end up really regretting something you said. Especially if you’re, say, an author. The last thing you need is pissing off your readership, too. My rule regarding that is this: If something really pisses me off, I wait 24 hours before responding. If I’m still pissed after that, I wait another 24 hours. Usually by that time, I’m not pissed anymore and I don’t need to respond. Or if it’s something that warrants a response, I’ll do so privately, after my 24- or 48-hour waiting period.
4. Social media isn’t necessarily a therapist.
So maybe you shouldn’t post about the stuff that’s bugging you on your timeline for all to see. Sometimes, it’s best to work that out with an actual therapist, in the privacy of a therapist’s office. Social media can offer a lot of pop psychology, but remember, you don’t know who all is reading your posts. It could be your boss, and if you’re venting about your boss…yikes. The more info you post publicly, the less control you have over what others do with it.
5. Don’t post your locations.
Now, obviously, this one comes with caveats. If you’re an author and you’re going to be doing an event, then you generally let people know about that. But if you’re not necessarily a public figure and you’re going on vacation for two weeks to California, don’t post that, especially if you are a public figure and your accounts aren’t on lockdown. Because that’s a message to douchecanoes: “Hey! Come and rob me! I’m on vacation!” Even those Allstate Insurance commercials tell you that. Along those lines, don’t post photos of your vacation (until you’re back).
If you need to tell a group of friends where you are, here’s a novel concept. Text them. Or call. Or email. Yeah, I know. Email is falling out of favor with the younger folks. And it shows, because when I actually get emails from younger folks, a lot of them clearly have no idea how to properly address someone, speak in complete sentences, be clear about what the purpose of the email is, or how to appropriately sign off. Folks, here’s a tip. Learn how to write a proper letter, and use that in emails. Because you will be using emails in your job searches.
6. Careful what links you post/like/retweet.
Sometimes you might see a headline and think, “oh, that’s terrible, that the government is doing that! I’m going to post that on my timeline!” And then come to find out that the source of the headline is aliensatemybaby.com conspiracy site. Now, if you’re okay with sharing stories from a source like that, okay. If you spend lots of time wearing a tinfoil hat, well, okay. But if you’re not, well, some of your professional contacts might wonder about you, posting a link from a source like that. Same goes for Twitter. Watch what you retweet, watch what you like.
7. Try to use good grammar and spelling.
Especially if you’re a public figure. I get it, though. We’re in an era of text-speak, where everybody is all into “how r u c u soon.” Sometimes that’s okay. But generally, try to repre-ZENT! Remember, your employer(s) — future and present — are going to be checking out your social media, and they’re going to want to know how you present yourself online.
8. Careful with the off-color remarks and jokes.
You lose a lot of context in social media. Those who know you offline can read one of your remarks and recognize it as goofy snark, because they know you, they’ve heard and seen you, and they have a sense of who you are offline. But others don’t have that knowledge, and something you post could be taken wrong/out of context and then end up painting you with an unfair/incomplete brush. So before you post something like that, think about potential ramifications. Remember, bosses and coworkers might see it, too.
9. Watch who you friend/follow.
If you don’t know who somebody is who’s trying to friend you, do a little research. Who might that person be? Why is he/she trying to friend you? Now, as an author, I get lots of friend/follow requests. I expect that. But I always go to the Twitter or Facebook page to see if I can determine whether the person is real. That is, not a spammer. If I can’t tell, I’ll send a private message to see what kind of response I get. Yes, this approach has pissed a couple of people off, but I’d rather piss people off then get spammed mercilessly and spread that spammer along through my friends networks. So be careful about this.
10. Watch your tagging.
I get it. You’re all happy about a photo at a party or something and you want to share the luv with everybody and tag everybody so they can see, too. Well, some of the people in that photo may not want to be tagged. They may not want that image out there associated with them, for whatever reasons. So don’t tag someone unless you check with them first whether it’s okay.
In other words, HAVE SOME EMPATHY for others. You may be fine with posting your photos all over and being tagged every which way, but not everybody is. Show some courtesy and don’t tag people unless you’re absolutely sure they’re okay with it.
AND! MOST IMPORTANT! Get off the internet and engage in real-time and real life.
Stop staring at your phone. Put it away and talk to people. Go have coffee or lunch or something with people and keep your phone in your pocket. Connect in real time, too. Because that will expand your horizons and hopefully help you connect with people, rather than use the intertoobz as an anonymous tool for engagement.
Happy Sunday and stay safe!