Whenever you use a social network, send a text, or post online, you're adding to
your online identity. Your online identity may be different from your real-world identity
— the way your friends, parents, and teachers think of you.
Trying on different personas is part of the fun of an online life. You can change
the way you act and present yourself to others, and you can learn more about things
that interest you. And, just as in real life, you can take steps to help you stay
Things to Consider
Here are some things to consider to safeguard your online identity and reputation:
Remember that nothing is temporary online. The online world is
full of chances to interact and share with others. It's also a place where nothing
is temporary and there are no "take-backs." A lot of what you do and say online can
be seen even if you delete it — and it's a breeze for others to copy, save,
and forward your information.
Mark your profiles as private. Anyone who accesses your profile
on social networking sites can copy or screen-grab information and photos that you
may not want the world to see. Don't rely on the site's default settings. Read each
site's guidelines to make sure you're doing everything you can to keep your material
Safeguard your passwords and change them often. If someone logs
on to a site and pretends to be you, they can trash your identity. Pick passwords
that no one will guess and change them often. Never share them with anyone other than
your parents or a trusted adult. Not even your best friend, boyfriend, or girlfriend
should know your private passwords!
Don't post inappropriate or sexually provocative pictures or comments.
Things that seem funny or cool to you right now might not seem so cool years from
now — or when a teacher, admissions officer, or potential employer sees them.
A good rule of thumb is: if you'd feel weird if your grandmother, coach, or best friend's
parents saw it, it's probably not a good thing to post. Even if it's on a private
page, it could be hacked or copied and forwarded.
Don't respond to inappropriate requests. Many teens get inappropriate
messages and solicitations when they're online. These can be scary, strange, and even
embarrassing. If you feel harassed by a stranger or a friend online, tell an adult
you trust immediately. It is never a good idea to respond. Responding is only likely
to make things worse, and might result in you saying something you wish you hadn't.
Take a breather to avoid "flaming." Feel like firing off
an angry text or comment? Wait a few minutes, calm down, and remember that the comments
may stay long after you've regained your temper or changed your mind.
Feeling anonymous on social networks or other sites can make people feel OK about
posting mean, insulting, or abusive comments. Sharing stuff or making angry comments
when we're not face to face with someone can be hurtful and damage how others see
us if they find out. A good rule to remember: if you wouldn't say it, show it, or
do it in person, you don't want to online.
Respect copyrights. Know about copyright laws and make sure you
don't post, share, or distribute copyrighted images, songs, or files. Sure, you want
to share them, but you don't want to do anything illegal that can come back to haunt
Check yourself. Check your "digital footprint." Try typing your
screen name or email address into a search engine and see what comes up. That's one
way to get a sense of what others see as your online identity.
Take it offline. In general, if you have questions about the trail
you're leaving online, don't be afraid to ask a trusted adult. Sure, you might know
more about the online world than a lot of adults do, but they have life experience
that can help.
Your online identity and reputation are shaped in much the same way as your real-life
identity. But when you're online you don't always get a chance to explain your tone
or what you mean. Thinking before you post and being responsible can help you avoid
leaving an online identity trail you regret.