Snapchat. Instagram. Twitter. Facebook. WhatsApp. Kik. Tumblr.
The majority of our teenagers have these apps installed on their phones, and often they are used under the naive assumption of privacy – “I only add people I know!” “It’ll delete in 8 seconds!” But what many fail to realize is that every click, swipe, or tap leaves a traceable trail to everything you have ever done on the internet… But unlike that time you accidentally stepped on your mom’s favorite carpet in your dirty work boots, your digital footprint is nearly impossible to erase.
According to a 2013 study by the Pew Research Center, teens are posting more information about themselves online than ever before. For example:
- 91% post a photo of themselves (up from 79% in 2006)
- 71% post their school name (up from 49%)
- 71% post the city or town they live in (up from 61%)
- 53% post their email address (up from 29%)
- 20% post their cell phone number (up from 2%)
But more often than not, teenagers use social media for much more than sharing basic personal data. Microblog apps like Twitter serve as windows to a person’s psyche – they expose passions, pet peeves, or pettiness (watch out for subtweets!). Photo-sharing apps such as Instagram provide a snapshot not only into the life of that teen, but also their friends, daily habits, and environment. Geolocation tags allow literally anyone to see where that person has visited, who they went with, which Lyft driver they took, and what drink they ordered at Starbucks that afternoon.
There are obvious safety issues, of course–publicly posting this amount of personal information puts teens at risk of endangerment from predators, bullies, and scams.
But what many teens don’t realize could be dependent on their social media activity? Their college acceptance letters.
A recent Kaplan Test Prep survey polled more than 350 college admissions counselors in the U.S., and over 35% reported having observed applicants’ social media accounts to learn more about the students before making any final admissions decisions. Of those that monitor social media, 47% of admissions counselors stated that profiles had a positive influence on student admissions, while 42% said what they found had a negative effect.
Some of the positive influences found on social media included community building, winning awards, and family activities. The most common negative findings? Bigotry, illegal activity, and questionable language. Just last month, 10 students recently admitted to Harvard University had their offers rescinded due to offensive jokes and memes posted in a private Facebook group!
For better or for worse, social media plays a huge role in modern society. It also heavily influences how people perceive us – including potential colleges and employers. Next time before you post something online, ask yourself these 5 questions:
- Would I let my parents see this, and would they be disappointed?
- Would I say the same thing to someone’s face?
- Is it kind and true?
- Does it reflect who I am offline?
- Would this affect any of my personal relationships?
If you cannot answer all five of those questions positively and confidently, it probably just isn’t worth it.