Sometimes I look back on old Facebook posts and cringe. Passive-aggressive statuses. Pictures I hand-picked because I thought they flattered me when, in fact, they did not. Conversations I initiated for perceived status only.
I joined Facebook when I was 18. I was out of high school, enrolled in college, an official adult. But 10+ years later, I’m still embarrassed by some of the things I posted, even though I was already legal to vote when I first began a relationship with social media.
The same is true for any medium, really. Although I didn’t get Instagram or Twitter until a few years down the line, they too can be a source of embarrassment for me. Why did I post that? I sounded so lame. So negative. So immature!
You can probably relate. From middle school to middle age, we’ve all pressed “POST” at one time or another, only to regret it later.
I still sometimes post things without thinking them through, but I like to think I’ve learned a few things in a decade – mostly by making my own mistakes and watching others do the same. Here’s a checklist to consider next time you hit “SHARE” to help prevent that post-posting guilt:
- Am I posting this to get attention? We all want people to like us. We want to impress the cool kids (even if those “kids” are fully-grown adults). But when we post something only to gain attention, our motives are skewed and we often regret it. Remember that not all attention is good attention. You may very well get attention for your controversial outfit, your rant about the bad service you received, or your totally not-subtle copied-and-pasted Taylor Swift lyrics directed at your ex-boyfriend. But it’s not the kind of attention that makes people think, I want to be her friend! Be yourself. Don’t post just to impress people. Quite simply, it makes you look desperate, and that’s not the kind of reputation you want to cultivate.
- Are these people I would talk to in person? It’s tempting to add, add, add to get your friend count up – again, with the goal of impressing others. Almost everyone has been guilty of this at one time or another. But are these people real-life acquaintances? Will you still want to read what they’re posting five years down the road? I’ve added plenty of people whom I “Hey, how are you?” without a thought at school or at work, but once our shared class is over or one of us moves away, staying connected on social media can be awkward. I end up with people on my friend list whom I haven’t talked to in years, but I don’t want to be insensitive and unfriend them (especially if I’m the one who hit “ADD AS FRIEND” in the first place). Think ahead to the future and only send out friend requests to the people you actually want to stay in touch with. And it probably goes without saying, but don’t add people you’ve never talked to in your life.
- Is this helpful or interesting to my followers? Social media isn’t all about you. It is about you in part, to be sure, but it’s called social media for a reason. The goal is socialization. You don’t have to be a constant people-pleaser, only sharing things for others, but let’s be real: nobody wants to read what you’re eating for breakfast every morning, either. Share things that you find intriguing and that others might, too. Tell your stories of hope, victory, beauty, hilarity. Tag someone when you come across that meme that is so them. But don’t just stand on a platform and shout how awesome you are.
- Am I emotionally stable right now? We’ve all seen people type angry rants and post-breakup sonnets. It’s normal and healthy to feel things, but it’s not necessarily healthy to post those feelings for the world to see. If you’re in doubt, wait a day or a week and then decide if you still think something is worth publicizing.
- What will I think about this in the future? Think ahead five years. Ten years. Thirty years. Will your 40-year-old self be ashamed by what your 20-year-old self wrote? Will you still feel at peace about what you posted? Put yourself in the shoes of future you, and post accordingly.
- What would a potential employer think of this? It’s completely fine to show your personality in your social media posts. Don’t feel like you have to hide the fact that you love dogs or that you’re a huge This is Us fan, but do consider what hiring managers might think when they peruse your social media accounts. They probably won’t be impressed by signs of rage or immaturity, pictures of you partying, or a scantily-clad profile picture.
- What would the kind of person I want to marry think of this? For those of you who are single, don’t forget about your future spouse. Are you attracting the kind of person you want to marry with the types of things you post? Or would you be embarrassed to show him/her your old photos and Messenger history? It could get pretty awkward someday when your Mr. or Mrs. Right (or worse, your future in-law) is scrolling through suggestive photos or conversations between you and a former flame.
- Would I be embarrassed for my high school principal to see this? Someone once told me that this is a good guideline for dating – don’t do anything with your boyfriend or girlfriend that you’d be embarrassed to have your principal witness. Or pastor. Or parent. The same is true for social media. The thing is, on social media, you never know who’s looking at what you post. Your friends can show their friends, hackers can weasel their way in, and information can get public real quick, no matter your privacy settings. Post with the expectation that anyone could see it – and rethink anything that might humiliate you if they do.
These are just a few questions you can ask yourself if you’re on the fence about posting or friending or Snapping. We all make mistakes. But consider these guidelines, use common sense and, when in doubt, don’t! Your future self will thank you.
What do you think? What are your suggestions (or horror stories) when it comes to social media?