Social networks - self-contained online forums where users can share their lives and careers and engage in ongoing dialogue with others in the form of text, photos, videos, comments and other forms of high-tech communication - have grown by leaps and bounds over the past decade. Billions of people worldwide now regularly turn to social networks to provide friends and strangers alike with snapshots and updates of their daily life and, in turn, see what friends, family, and acquaintances are doing at any given moment. In fact, it's fair to say that today we're juggling two lives: Real and virtual. But what do basic rules of online etiquette look like, and which information and viewpoints are OK to share on these most public of forums? As we note in the new book
, answers are often hard to come by. Below, you'll find essential hints, tips, and guidelines for maintaining a safe and positive presence on popular social media sites from Facebook to Instagram, Snapchat, and beyond.
Maintaining a Positive Online Presence
- Sharing extremely-opinionated viewpoints (e.g. political leanings or thoughts on controversial topics) can be a lightning rod online. Think twice before liking supporting status updates or posting such opinions, which can incite and aggravate others (and live on in perpetuity). If you feel the need to express these opinions, consider confining such communications to exchanges with individual friends, or specific Facebook or Google+ groups. Ultimately though, it's important to remember: If you don't have anything nice to say, perhaps it's best left unsaid.
- Posting embarrassing, revealing or negative photos of yourself should be avoided at all costs. Remember: Images you share may be taken at face value, and/or viewed as representative of your character - not to mention live on forever on the Internet. What seems cute in high school or college may not seem quite so endearing to potential employers.
- Never post photos of others without their express permission.
- Relationship or personal drama is best kept private. If you cannot resist the urge to share, do so sparingly - and in the most vague, unspecific terms possible - for the sake of involved parties, or friends uninterested or unwilling to participate in the situation. No communications should be shared about other individuals and those involved in real-life situations without their advance permission.
- As a rule of thumb, uncomfortable or revealing personal information, i.e. details of your struggles with psychological issues or relatives' fading health, should be shared sparingly, if at all, and - unless acquaintances have indicated that they're comfortable viewing this content - only with others you know in real-life. Note that content shared online may further be available for public viewing, and inadvertently expose you or your family to potential risk and/or embarrassment.
- Never share intimate personal details including birthdates, phone numbers, addresses, schools or hometowns online, to minimize risks of crime, vandalism or identity theft. Never let others know when you'll be away from your home, especially for any given length of time, e.g. while on vacation.
- Avoid posting on social networks unless you have a tight grasp over your privacy settings, and are completely comfortable with the group of online friends that your updates will be shared with.
Tone of Voice and Attitude
- Professionalism is imperative - if you wouldn't say it in a social or work setting, don't say it online, in the most public of forums.
- Politeness and respect are vital: Always be considerate of others, and treat them the way that you'd wish to be treated.
- Avoid bad-mouthing other users as it will negatively impact your image and casual bystanders may judge you based on these actions.
- Maintain a positive tone and attitude: Negativity, complaints and condescending messages often reflect poorly on the poster.
- Bragging and self-aggrandizing statements should be avoided, and making them may cause you to lose friends and followers.
- Since social networks are shared venues enjoyed in mixed company, always avoid using vulgar language and making derogatory remarks.
- Demanding that others share your status updates, projects, thoughts or ideas is inappropriate.
- Reserve confidential discussions for private message threads or, better yet, phone calls, emails or other venues where interactions aren't recorded in perpetuity online.
- Be advised that conversational nuances and subtle shifts in tone or personality may be lost in translation, and that individual users may interpret messages differently: Consider how posts will be read and interpreted before sending.
- Poor spelling, punctuation, grammar and choice of words can reflect equally poorly upon the individual - proofread all communications before sending. Shorthand, abbreviations and online slang should be avoided if possible, and used only in the most informal of conversations.
Being a Responsible User
- Understand that each social network has its own rules of conduct, social norms and methods of interaction. Before utilizing one, take a moment to step back and observe how interactions take place, so you can discern appropriate rules of posting, sharing and behavior.
- Assume that everything you post online can be seen by others, as even major social networks have suffered privacy breaches.
- Do not share information that online friends have shared with you in confidence, i.e. quoting someone's private tweet to you.
- Log out of all your social networks when finished using them, and when you are using a computer or mobile device that isn't yours.
- Realize that everything posted online lives on the Internet permanently, and may be available for public viewing.
- Never forget: Despite their seemingly intimacy, social networks are among the most public of spaces - it's important to conduct yourself on them as you would in any shared setting.
- You reserve the exclusive right, and it is wholly appropriate, to decline friend requests from strangers.
- Privacy and personal comfort are paramount: At no point should you feel compelled to respond to messages or queries from people you don't know.
- Before posting on others' profiles or walls, or tagging them in your own posts, consider how your actions and/or statements may be perceived, and if they may potentially cast friends in a negative light and/or embarrass them.
- Use privacy settings to limit who can view your posts and shares.
- When asking someone you don't know to be your friend, send a short message explaining who you are and why you're attempting to contact them.