Recently, I spoke at my local chamber of commerce about online issues, and a number of attendees approached me about a section of my presentation which they thought was particularly relevant for teenagers, college students and young professionals. They encouraged me to write about it and share my advice.
As the father of two teenagers who has been studying online reputation issues for the past three years and as the author of new book on the topic, How to Protect (Or Destroy) Your Reputation Online, I agreed it was a good idea to spread the word.
Here are five key things that young people need to be concerned about when it comes to their reputation online.
Follow the rules
The best way to have a good online reputation is to have a good offline reputation. This starts with being respectful of life's many rules and the laws of the land. As I was finishing my book, I was watching the NFL Draft and one of the biggest stories was that of Laremy Tunsil, the eventual first round draft choice of the Miami Dolphins. Tunsil's Twitter account was hacked moments before the draft and a picture of him smoking marijuana was published for the world to see. He dropped 13 places in the draft, and it is estimated that it cost him about $10 million. Here's the point: No matter what you think of the marijuana laws in our country, it is still against law for anyone in the United States under the age of 18 to smoke pot, even in Colorado. Tunsil broke the rules and it cost him dearly. We have to teach our kids to follow the rules, plain and simple. Breaking life's rules is a quick way to get yourself in trouble and one way to easily have problems online.
Resist the urge to digitally document everything
Everything that we do in life does not deserve to be a tweet or posted on Facebook. We have to resist the urge to document everything that we do, and stop ourselves from documenting the failings of others. No one is immune from having a bad day. Everyone has done something in public that they are not proud of, whether it is losing our temper, yelling at a friend or relative, or just doing something foolish. We have to stop posting images and videos of friends, enemies or even strangers when they are at their worst. Too often, we are anxious and at the ready to document the failings of others, even though it does nothing to advance our society.
Know who your friends are
Friends don't post inappropriate things about you online. They don't try to coax you into doing dumb things when your judgment is impaired, and they don't draw things on your face with a Sharpie when you are passed out. To the contrary, friends help you get home safe. They look out for you. They remind you when something you are considering is, in fact, a bad idea. Your friends help you be a better person, not make you look silly online. I tell my kids, keep your friends close, and keep your enemies far away.
Stop taking pictures of your private parts
This one seems so simple, yet it continues to confound me. The number of people who have called me because they have naked pictures of themselves online would astound you. It's an epidemic. We have to stop taking pictures of our private parts and posting them online. Here's how it goes: We have to teach our daughters to stop taking naked pictures of themselves and we have to tell our sons to stop asking for them. Sexting is a two street that none of us should really be on.
We have to teach our kids and everyone in our lives about self-respect. So many of these issues arise online because young people are trying to get attention. While breaking a rule, posting something inappropriate, taking a video of a stranger's meltdown, or texting a picture of your junk may seem like a fun thing to do in the short term, I guarantee that it will eventual be a source of regret. Self-respect cures many of these ills. And I believe that if you have self-respect, then you will respect others - and many online problems will go away.