Joanna Hughes :
From staying in touch with far-off friends and family members to keeping up on the latest news, social media has many benefits. It can even be a wonderful form of self-expression. However, this doesn't mean you can post and share whatever you want. Students, in particular, need to exercise good judgment when using social media. Why? Because what you say or show on social media has a long and far-reaching life, and the last thing you want is a post made in a momentary lapse of reason to haunt you 20 years from now.
Luckily, there are some simple tips which can help you make the most of social media without putting your reputation at risk-starting with these six handy do's and don'ts.
1. DO refrain from posting confidential information.
Just got your new passport and eager to share your big plans for traveling abroad? Posting a picture of that passport can end you up in hot water-and not the kind you'll find in Iceland's famed geothermal "hot pots." In posting things like your passport, driver's license, travel itinerary, and even course schedules may grant unfriendly eyes access to sensitive information which can be used for everything from opening credit cards in your name to breaking into your apartment when you're out of town.
The same applies to "checking in" at particular locations-especially remote places or if you are alone. While you may want all your friends to know where to find you, you may also be exposing this information to other people in the process.
2. DON'T post about illegal activities.
This one may seem like a no-brainer, but people have been arrested for Facebook posts pertaining to everything from underage drunken escapades to boasting about stolen goods. Now your behavior may not be nearly as extreme, but it can still leave you vulnerable to school expulsion as well as criminal prosecution if it's against the rules or law.
Think you're safe just because your page is private? Think again. Any of your contacts can download and save incriminating pictures, which may eventually fall into the wrong hands.
One rule of thumb some students swear by? Only post pictures you'd share with your grandmother.
3. DO use privacy settings and follow password recommendations.
Still using 12345, qwerty, or abc123 as your password? So are millions of other people-making these passwords an easy mark for cyber criminals looking to hack your account. Also making the list of most common passwords, according to The Telegraph? Everything from football and baseball to monkey and even starwars.
Struggling to keep track of them all? Consider using a password manager like 1Password, which both generates and stores secure passwords for you. Two-factor authentication offers another valuable level of verification.
And while making your profile is a must-do, it's not foolproof. Think of it privacy settings as a backup. Your first line of defense? Practicing judicious posting in the first place.
4. DON'T believe everything you read.
"Fake news" is among the most talked about subjects of the past year. Using Facebook or Twitter as your primary source of news is dangerous territory. Experts recommend expanding to other, more reliable news sources.
However, if you are getting your news from social media, there are some simple ways to avoid becoming a victim-and even worse, disseminator-of fake news: always vet the source before accepting anything as fact.
5. DO be positive.
Social media can be used to boost your image and build connections. However, if the bulk of what you post is negative or overly emotional, you risk opening yourself up to the poor perception of others.
Explains Mashable, "It's human nature to react without thinking through the consequences. However, whenever possible, take a moment to imagine how your social media posts affect the feelings, safety and well-being of those around you - even your worst enemies. Posting an angry tweet in the heat of the moment may feel cathartic, but the momentary pleasure you get from writing it isn't worth the potential harm it could create. Take a moment to breathe, think and reboot."
6. DON'T fall down the social media rabbit hole.
If you're like most busy students, you don't have an excess of time. And yet a recent poll by Fluent as reported by eMarketer, 15.6 percent of college students spend four to five hours a day on Facebook, while 10.3 percent spent that much time on Instagram. A full 11 percent of students, meanwhile, reported spending six or more hours on Facebook daily.
Why is social media such a time suck? Because it's a bit like falling down the rabbit hole: You never know where you're going to end up once you start on your way. Experts recommend determining which social media sites bring the most value to your life and focusing your attention there; only following and "friending" people who mean something to you; turning notifications on for the most important stuff; and learning to save content to revisit later.
If you need extra help trimming down the amount of time you spend on social media, look into productivity tools which allow you to selectively block certain websites-such as during your peak study times.
Social media often gets a bad rap, and some of that is earned. However, the power of social media as a resource for everything from making your voice heard to exhibiting your skills and talents to potential employers is equally if not more profound. By following these six do's and don'ts, you can strategically position yourself to end up on the smart side of social media.
(Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family).