16 Unspoken Social Media Rules to Know Before Your Next Post
The specifics of social media can pose everyday challenges, given that we're encouraged to share, to tag, to connect widely and instantly—and it can be hard to understand how our actions will affect other people. One good rule of thumb is to consider how they might. And another is to bear in mind that everything you do online is public and permanent. In short, if you don't want your grandmother or your in-laws to see it, don't post it.
Perhaps even more important than how you use your technology is when you use it. (Your boss isn't going to want to see an Instagram post time-stamped from that afternoon meeting you were in.) And above all, remember to power off your gadgets and pay attention to the real people in your life—the ones who are right in front of you.
To avoid giving offense when you're online, we consulted Real Simple manners columnist Catherine Newman for social media guidelines to follow the next time you unlock your phone.
- Don't post about yourself 24/7. It's the nature of the medium, of course. And, sure, we all want affirmation. But try not to make every update about you and you alone. Try not to troll too frequently for compliments or sympathy. Actually, try not to post too frequently, period.
- Post only flattering pictures of other people. Just because you're cool with being posted wolfing an entire deep-dish pizza doesn't mean your cousin, who was right there with you, will share your sentiments.
- Friend wisely. Don't extend a request to your supervisor or a client. "You don't want them ga-ga-gooing at your baby niece or commenting on your Oktoberfest pics," says Newman. And if they friend you? Adjust your settings as needed to keep at least a thin boundary between work and regular life.
- Spare us your synced games. No offense, but we don't even want to know that you're playing Candy Crush Saga, let alone receive tedious, spam-like invitations to join you.
- Abstain from vague-booking. If you want to share something, please do it. But, advises Newman, skip the ambiguous cries for attention: "It finally happened"; "ER visits suck"; or that frowny little emoji.
- Mind your meh. The avocado toast you ate for breakfast? How much you hate Mondays? Unless you're a comic genius, a Nobel prize-winning neuroscientist, or Kate Middleton, your every mundane thought is probably not worth posting.
- Apply the billboard test. Assume that everyone in the world can and will see everything you post (the drunken rant, the gross joke), says Newman.
- Be responsive. This is the quid pro quo rule: If someone you know follows you, follow him back; if someone tweets something nice about you, favorite it.
- Don't request retweets. Make the most of your 140-character limit and followers will want to share your tweets all on their own, without your asking.
- Edit your photos. You went to Arizona and saw dozens of saguaro cacti that were uncannily human-shaped! Unless you're a professional cactus photographer, nobody wants to see more than two photos (or one).
- Give credit where it's due. Don't post other people's photos or quotes without clear attribution. This means no screen grabs, even if you have the best intentions. Instead, use a repost app to properly credit others for their own content.
- Restrain your use of hashtags. A hashtag can provide a funny or interesting interpretation for your photo viewers. But more is not merrier, and overuse of them is a common pet peeve.
- Think of the future you. Your tastes will change, as will your sense of humor, your idea of TMI, and your interest in privacy—but your photos will live on forever. Once more, with feeling: Use caution when posting.
- Remember that the pics are not necessarily fleeting. "People can take screenshots of your snaps before they disappear," says Newman. "And those screenshots will then not disappear. Enough said."
- Be wary of potential embarrassment. That goes for other people—and yourself. Just because this point can never be stressed enough: A nude snap is not going to do you any favors.
- Don't take screenshots of other people's snaps. Creating permanent evidence violates the spirit of the medium. Folks using the app mean for their snaps to be transitory, and you should respect that intention.