Why it’s Wise to Pause Before We Post – Social Media
I’ve been thinking a lot these days about what I post on social media and why I post it. My husband recently joined Instagram, after years of protesting it. He isn’t on any social media platforms very often, but now that he has greater access to mine, his interaction has given me a heightened sense of accountability, an accountability I didn’t even know I needed. As we brushed our teeth before crawling into bed the other night, he asked me if I really needed to share all our vacation pictures. “My friends and family want to see them. All of them,” I insisted. But, if I’m honest, I’m not sure that’s the only reason I post. And come to think of it, I don’t even know how often my grandma actually sees my posts.
Most of us would agree social media is a fundamental means of communication with friends, family, and a number of other acquaintances. In fact, a recent Pew Research Center study found just over 80% of Americans have a Facebook profile, 42% have an Instagram account, and 24% have a Twitter account. The study also indicated a 5% growth on all social media platforms from last year. With stats like these, it isn’t an overreach to assume most of us communicate more information, and to more people, online than offline in a given day. Our reach and the amount of information we’re sharing are broader than ever.
As wonderful and communal as social media can be, it can also be problematic. Social media is just old enough that we’re all familiar with its benefits, but it is still too young to fully realize all of its consequences. It may take decades of studies to fully understand how social media contributed to or detracted from our well being. In the meantime, it’s probably wise to pause and give thought to what we’re posing and why, especially when our posts include our kids.
As a mama with an online presence on all those aforementioned technology sites, I have some reservations. The work and research I do with human trafficking prevention has definitely given me pause about what I share online. Additionally, I took a graduate class a few years ago on the ethics of technology, and it encouraged me to think a bit more responsibly about the content I share. I am by no means a social media expert, but I have gleaned several helpful tips through these experiences and some good, long reflection.
First, I don’t want to compromise my kids’ safety or privacy.
Sadly and unintentionally, this might be the boundary I am most guilty of breaking. We’re living in an open information society, and it can be difficult to protect them. To help compensate for the lack of online anonymity, I’ve committed to stop using location specific tags for my kids’ present whereabouts. I’m also refraining from naming their schools or other frequented sites in my posts. In addition to protecting their location, I want to exercise more caution with what my posts reveal about them. For instance, when my boys were little bitty and ran around half dressed all day (actually, they still do this…), I ensured all discretionary body parts were meticulously covered in online pictures. Trying to live a life of anonymity can feel a bit futile, but I’m committed to doing what I can to ensure their privacy and emotional wellbeing.
Second, before posting, I want to ask myself whether or not I would say this in real life.
Isn’t it amazing the things people will say online that we’re fairly certain they would never say to an actual living, breathing human being? Before living in Waco, we lived in Boston, MA and San Diego, CA. There are some pretty stark contrasts between those large costal cities and Waco, TX. We moved here four years ago to raise our family precisely for all the small town differences we love. But life in a small town is an adjustment from a big city. Specifically in regards to social media, if I posted on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram while living in Boston or San Diego, I could go days—weeks, even—before running into anyone in person who actually saw my post online. Living in a smaller town has given me good reason to pause and ask myself if I would communicate this information to a live audience. There is a good chance I could have an in person conversation the next day with someone who has read it.
Lastly, before I post, I ask myself if this information could impede my employment or any place of relational influence.
You know those kids in school who would raise their hands to answer a question but didn’t actually formulate the answer until they were mid response? I was that kid. Heck, I am still that kid. I’m an external processor. It’s not uncommon for me to seek feedback online for bathroom tile choices, home selling methods, or gluten free foods. In fact, just the other day, I sought feedback on an organic feminine product. (And I was pleasantly surprised by the 34 enlightening responses…) There’s also no shortage of political or social activist posts coming from my online accounts. Still, as much as I yearn to process, seek feedback, or offer an opinion, I have to temper my communication with a certain level of professional decorum. I teach at a university, and many of my colleagues are quite cautious when it comes to public vulnerability. I don’t think I could live my life too persnickety for any level of online openness. Yet, there is wisdom to thinking through how my current or future places of employment and professional relationships would receive my post. We’ve all read the stories of people losing their jobs or being denied an offer for a job over an irresponsible tweet or Facebook post, and none of us want to be in that situation.
Social media is largely how I keep up with friends and family. It’s also how I keep up with local and global news. I’m thankful for the level of engagement it provides. But if we aren’t vigilant, social media can suck us into a vortex of information and vulnerability so deep we have to climb our way out by sheer volition. And possibly one it’s too late. I don’t want to do down like that. I’m certainly not flawlessly navigating social media privacy, discourse, or presentation.