Young Voices: Taking Responsibility for Your Online Self

Today's guest blogger, Kedrica Taylor, was a former member of the Unmask the Media Project, a student-run program, developed by the Tulsa, Oklahoma Youth Philanthropy Initiative, that addresses the issue of the media’s negative effects on teenager’s self-perceptions. Her blog is the second in a series of three "Young Voices" blogs, where some of our young friends lend their perspective on what it means to be a digital citizen.

Taking Responsibility for Your Online Self

By Kedrica Taylor, Guest Blogger

Privacy is non-existent in social media. There is no other way to explain it. When posting information on the Internet, you have to assume responsibility for both your physical and your cyber self. The idea of being an upright, respectable, competent user of social media is an essential aspect of being a good digital citizen.

Social media has created many beneficial opportunities for those who choose to use it. Websites like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr aid people in presenting their ideas, connecting with others, and presenting themselves to the world in their own way. Through social media, you can be who you want to be, rally for what you want to rally for, and not worry about what others might think--but that's not always the case.

[Related: Free Webinar: Teaching Kids to Be Good Digital Citizens.]

In February of 2009, Michael Phelps was caught in a scandal that shocked the nation. Just after winning his 7th gold medal in the 2008 Summer Olympics, Michael was captured on camera smoking marijuana. After this photo went viral, hes lost his contract with Kellogg’s. The image tainted his achievements in the public eye. No longer could Phelps be seen as the young man who had achieved greatness, but as a star who had temporarily fallen from grace. He failed to be fully aware of not only his actions, but how he was going to be presented online. Imagine achieving a great feat, just to have it outshined by a moment of ill judgment, put on the Internet for all to witness. While Phelps’s reputation has recovered, and he has come back to be the most decorated Olympian, there are similar stories that do not end as well. And that picture is still floating around on the Internet.

What one puts on the Internet is never truly deleted.

Once you share a photo on Instagram, it’s going to be in cyber-space, even after you delete it. Whether it is a comment on Facebook about how rude your waiter was, or a post on your blog about getting a speeding ticket--even after you think it is deleted--it can still be accessed. I believe people fail to realize this, and believe that they can post however they are feeling, at any given moment.

There have been numerous stories on how an individual working for a specific company will rant (on Facebook or somewhere else online) about a bad day or an unpleasant customer and immediately be fired from their position because someone in higher management saw what they posted. It is extremely inappropriate to be unprofessional in the cyber world, but because of the assumed anonymity of the net, some believe such actions to be acceptable.

As a Resident Assistant leader on my campus, I cannot imagine posting anything online that I wouldn’t say out loud to a fellow resident, or be able to explain in an interview for a potential employer. The vast majority of my residents find it hard to believe that I’m surviving without a Facebook account. I try to explain to them that while social media, if used correctly, can be beneficial in many ways, it is not necessarily needed to live a full and sociable life. I then ask them if what they post online would represent them as an upright citizen, since police can access social media information without a warrant. After this statement, I usually receive a puzzled look. In any case, informing social media users, young or old, about how to be responsible about what they post online is more important today, in our technologically advanced society, than it has ever been.

Here’s how I think of it: The same way I would never drive a new Mercedes Benz without insurance and with my license expired, is the same way I would never risk being careless about a status, tweet, post, or blog pertaining to my life.

Kedrica Taylor is a sophomore nursing major at the University of Tulsa in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She was a member of Youth Philanthropy Initiative, which created the Unmask the Media Project. She currently holds a housing position at the university as a Resident Assistant for the first year residential experience. She is also actively involved in other campus organizations.

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