Teen Week—Social Media: How to Handle Your Handle

By Jessica Brown, MD, MPH

Social Media: The two most transformative words of this century. I remember being in college in 2004 and being introduced to Facebook as the cool new thing to connect with people on other college campuses. You had to have a college email address to even make an account. Cut to 15 years later and you don’t even have to be a person to have an account. Admittedly, the “Dogs of Instagram” account is pretty adorable. The internet has become a place where we no longer have to be ourselves. We can be anyone—which is also the danger of it.

Since all you need is an email address, it’s become really difficult to tell if the cutie who Kik’d you is actually 16 years old like they say, or a 45 year old man looking to lure young people away from their homes and families to hurt them. You just don’t know. Here are some ways to help you guard against the crazy:

  1. Never have any personal information on your profiles. That includes your full name, phone numbers, and addresses. People don’t need all that.
  2. Always have your account set to “Private.” It prevents people who aren’t already following or friends of yours from creeping on your page.
  3. Do not automatically accept every new request. Click the profile. Low numbers of followers/friends, only a handful of posts, and no mutual friends can be red flags.

The internet is forever. If there is one guideline to live by online, it’s this: Remember when everyone thought Snapchat was so great because the posts were erased after they were sent? Then remember when people started screenshotting them to save? Or shared them with other people you don’t even know? Think about potential employers or college admissions counselors dredging up your social media history.

There are whole teams developed to dive into the Internet and comb through everything you ever did online. To help, think about these things when posting:

  1. Is this something I wouldn’t mind a younger sibling or relative seeing or posting themselves?
  2. Am I nude? (If the answer is yes, just don’t send it. Seriously.)
  3. Is it being hurtful to someone? Cyberbullying is not the move. You may think they’re just jokes but no one should have to feel bad about themselves because of what people say to them or post about them.

Social media itself is not bad. It’s helped connect people all over the world. We can share ideas and learn more about each other. Just be responsible about what you do. Now go forth and post in peace!