To my teenager on using social media

I feel obligated to coach you on some netiquette issues because I don’t want you to end up being “That Guy” online.

Basically, there are four main reasons to use social media.

  1. Share yourself. Let people who are interested know what’s up with you
  2. Share cool stuff you honestly think others will enjoy
  3. Encourage, appreciate, and help others
  4. Facilitate real world relationships

 That’s it. Don’t try to change people’s politics. Don’t try to convert them to your religion. Don’t try to impress people with what a great guy you are. That only happens, but only rarely so, through the example of your actions offline, never from what you say online.

 Remember that you are conducting yourself in public. Don’t post anything that you wouldn’t want me to read. It may be a free country, but this is not a free family. I, your Father, am to be regarded as “Most Benevolent Dictator and Overlord.” I also moonlight as the secret police.

 And, hey, I was a teenager once. I was socially awkward. I said stupid stuff because I desperately wanted attention. I (gasp) used the occasional inappropriate language with my friends because I thought it would make me cool and ingratiate myself to the “in” group of the moment.

The thing is, I didn’t have the internet to capture it all so that everyone could read it. You do, so you have it harder than I did in that way. It’s like you need to be more mature than your developmental age to protect your future self from humiliation at the hands of your younger self. And, lacking that, the police state that I, your Benevolent Dictator and Overlord, have cobbled together will try to help with that. So remember that Big Brother is watching always.

So run out and play, but remember these things…

Emoticons are a poor substitute for non-verbal communication. People could not see your face as you typed that last clever post. Many boisterously enthusiastic things you say can come across as loud and obnoxious. Sarcasm and inside-jokes translate badly across social media and make you look like “That Guy.”

There is nothing you have to say in social media that requires more than one exclamation point. Ever. And, unless your team just won the national championship, or unless there is a medical emergency requiring an ambulance, you never ever post in all caps. Again, don’t be “That Guy.”

I see you participate in several niche groups. Fine. Let your geek flag fly, I say.

But you need to be aware that not everyone who sees what you post cares about what you care about. On general social media sites like Facebook all of your groups and interests are “collapsed” into one list. Sociologists call it “context collapse.” Church friends, geek friends, fanboy niche friends, school friends, family —  all of your “contexts” are “collapsed” on Facebook. They all look at what you post. You can’t post just for one context all the time.

So be well-rounded. Don’t post arcane song lyrics or change your profile pic to an obscure anime character and expect everyone to appreciate your sophisticated grasp of some cultural backwater. Save the uber-geeky stuff for the group’s bulletin board and keep your Facebook page kind of generic.

And you do not want to be “That Guy” on Facebook or whatever social site who’s all. “Ooh!! Ooh!! Look at me!!”

In social media you need to remember this guiding rule: Everyone who posts stuff on social media is saying “Hey! Pay attention to me!” in some way. You need to give 10x  more attention than you get. Positive attention. Encourage people.

Don’t create your own group and ask people to join you. Instead, join others’ groups and be a model member. Spend most of your time commenting on other people’s stuff. Comment on and encourage everyone else at least 5 times more than you post your own stuff.

Word hard and stay humble. Comment way more than you post. Be a producer, not just a consumer. And, as in real life, listen more than you talk.

That’s what you need to remember when you click the “status” icon.

Love you lots,

Your Father

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