Do’s and Don’ts of the Internet

You sit with your head in your hands, staring down at your phone screen. Mortified. Did you really post that? Stupid, stupid, stupid: a post ranting about a new policy in your town, littered with swears. No–that’s not me, I wouldn’t. You think, but as you stare at the responses piling on top of each other and the dislikes rolling in, you know that you did. 

You did this. But you aren’t entirely sure if you knew any better. There was no conscious thought to type it, really, just fragments of motion. Clicking the remote to the news channel. Rising anger, outrage about this new code that barely affected you. Fingers flying through your phone lock screen, to the nearest social media app, slamming down the keys. And just like that, your future was in jeopardy.

An apology post did nothing, you were sure, similarly, deleting the post did nothing. It had been screenshotted. Reacted to. Ejected out into the deep, infinite web of sharing and people and private information. You gaped at the sheer number of people responding to the post, clenching your fists in frustration, anger, self-pity.

What was done was done. But honestly, truly: did you know any better?

The honest answer? Probably not. Nowadays, there is an entirely new threat to your future and the future of all your peers. And it comes in the form of the internet.

The internet.

A seemingly perfect superhighway of information and opinions and change, a resource and a danger, a temptation that has taken over much of society. With all this power–to speak your mind at any time, on any platform, in front of millions of people–how can you protect yourself from leaving a negative digital trace? 

It’s not something you probably learned in school. Not something that can be very easily answered from an adult to a child or even in an article: it’s so subjective.

But there are some common things you need to know to keep yourself and your digital footprint clean and positive when it comes to online posting.

Stressed woman stares at her phone. Image courtesy of NBC News

#1– Realize that NOTHING you send or post on your phone is private

When I mean nothing…I mean nothing nothing. Even on a private chat, photos and words and videos that you send can be screenshotted, shared, and sent to other people. All your data is logged and recorded, sometimes in places you wouldn’t expect and shared with people way beyond who you would imagine.

This means all your:

  • Social media posts.
  • Pins on Pinterest.
  • Texts and sent photos.
  • Emails. 
  • Youtube or other videos.
  • Reviews of books, products, movies.

And so much more, all of which can be distributed around the entire web in mere seconds, not just to your circle of friends. Embarrassment will likely be the least of your problems if an inappropriate, racist, sexist, discriminatory, private or otherwise piece of content is sent (or even just sitting on your phone!) Content like this might be seen by:

  • College admissions professionals.
  • Future employers.
  • Government or law officials.
  • Dangerous individuals.
  • “Haters” or rivals.

#2–  Negative or controversial content can ruin your dreams.

Believe it or not, many college admissions and future employers will look you up. If they don’t like what they see on your accounts, you will probably get turned down from a future opportunity or booted out of a position you already have. 

Even an offhand post of a private chat can get leaked. For example, if you had a bad work day and you text your friend, 

Text message that says: My boss is soooo awful! Honestly lost respect for this company and this job since week 1. Our products are dumb and outdated anyways.

You could get fired!

But wait. Hold up! Isn’t this friend trustworthy? Did you even mean what you sent? Maybe not, but either way, this could get you fired in a heartbeat. If your employer/college admissions official recognizes that your message–whatever form it may take–doesn’t align with their brand, it can douse a chance for you to follow your dreams. 

#3– You are most likely posting/sending this reactively.

Not all negative posts to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or any other platform had malice intentions. Think about it: have you ever sent a text or an email to someone before you even processed their message? 

Many times when we are angry, jealous, sad, or emotional, these feelings can blind our judgement and cause us to respond reactively (without thinking).

 If possible, step back for a moment and think about what you are about to send/post. If that’s not working for you, try moving the apps or programs that you communicate on to a new place on your phone screen or stash it in a junk folder. When you don’t have that knee-jerk physical response to click the app where it has always been, it lets you think about your action before you do something you’ll regret.

#4– Exporting some content can put you in physical danger.

Especially now, with the internet flourishing and apps becoming increasingly open for everyone to communicate, there are dangerous people on the internet. You might not think that sharing where you live or even the general area can put you in any real danger. Not true.

Online, anonymous users or people that use fake profiles could be:

  • Sex offenders.
  • Thieves.
  • Murderers.
  • Rapists.
  • Con Artists.
  • Scammers.
  • Hackers.

So be selective with what you share on the web. Most of all, use common sense!

  • Don't/negative message: My boss just told me that this whole branch is getting shut down. he said don't tell anyone, so please don't say anything if anyone asks. "Do"/positive message in respobse to downsizing question: Not yet; I know there's been some speculation though. It's probabl
  • Contrasting professional and positive Youtube comments. The "Don't" comment say: Lol you messed up. honestly so bad. The "Do" or positive comment says: Hey, great job!!! You did super welll and I thought you made a nice recovery after the slight missed note. keep playing!

How can I protect myself and make a positive presence online?

Being safe on the internet is very subjective, and there are billions of possible scenarios and things that you can say, do, and share. But from an objective view, it is smart to follow these general rules:

Don’t post…

  • Profanity/swears.
  • Threats of any kind.
  • Harsh, non-constructive reactions to others
  • Cyber-bullying material.
  • Things said to you in confidence (unless the content is important, which then should be sent to local authorities or helplines).
  • Sexual content.
  • Overly political opinions that are unprofessional or hurtful.
  • Discriminatory stereotypes, cultural remarks, or comments.
  • Content undermining a religion or group of people.

It might help to use certain privacy measures on social media or other apps to protect content you want to keep to yourself. Here are some ways you can do this. Use at your own risk and with the knowledge that these tactics aren’t 100% foolproof. ⬇

Use privacy settings…

Trying to stay safe, but still want to be friendly to online strangers? Not sure what information to filter out? These are the basics not to share on any unsecure network or with anyone who you don’t know and trust. ⬇

Be safe and don’t share…

  • Your age.
  • Your gender.
  • Your address information.
  • Email, phone number, or means of contact.
  • Sexual content.
  • Any personal details that might be used against you.

The Golden Rule

Above all else, there is one blanket statement that applies all the knowledge stated:

“Don’t post or send anything you wouldn’t want your grandma to see!”

If you wouldn’t be comfortable showing your mother, father, sister/brother, displaying it on a slideshow at work or a family gathering, or reading it aloud in front of the whole world, don’t post it. 

I hope all of this information will help my readers and perhaps give them advice they’ve never heard before about using the internet. Even though my parents always stressed online safety, eight year old me didn’t think much of sharing my name and age on just about every Minecraft server in existence; something as innocent as that information can open doors for dangerous interactions, and it could have been much worse than it was. 

Share this article with anyone you think would benefit from it! Children, teens, and adults included. Everyone needs some guidance navigating this new world, and I’m happy to share some of the best advice that I’ve used in my life thus far.