WTF? Why should I care about my e-reputation? Why e-reputations matter for teens and young adults

by Amy Campbell and Kath Ann Hendricks

What do your teen patrons, your favorite restaurant, and South Africa all have in common?

They have all experienced damage from e-reputations.

E-reputations are gaining importance in the world. Your e-reputation is your Facebook page, your blogs, your Twitter account, your YouTube videos. It’s the photos that you post on Flickr as well as the photos that you’re tagged in. Something as innocent as liking a page on Facebook can negatively impact your e-reputation and, unfortunately, what other people are saying about you may also have an effect. Essentially, everything created by you and about you becomes part of your e-reputation.

Your e-reputation matters and it has real world consequences. Job recruiters and school admissions boards increasingly check search engines for information on applicants and many check social media specifically. Many teens and young adults are both prolific and careless creators of digital content, and the combination of being careless and prolific causes problems.

If our young patrons have been careless about privacy options for their accounts or they have posted things publicly that were better left private, they can get into trouble quickly. Something as innocent as complaining about going to work—something we have all done in our lives—takes on a different tone when the complaint is presented in social media where everyone, including a current or a future employer, may see it. In a job market where there are dozens of applicants for a single job, complaining publicly on social media about your current position or boss is the best way to ensure you are not even considered for an interview.

Teens and young adults live in a kind of enchanted world where most of the rest of us—including librarians and teachers—are shadowy figures around the periphery. They are trying on identities, opinions, and experiences. What we do at 15 may horrify us (if we remember) when we’re 30. Luckily for many of us, what we did at 15 is safely locked away from most of the people who see us on a daily basis.  Who we are as adults is often different, sometimes vastly different, from who we were at 15 or 20.

Many teens and young adults are living out these temporary identities and new experiences on social media. The safe bubble for teens and young adults to explore and to experiment as they make the long, oftentimes difficult journey into adulthood is gone. They don’t fold up high school and college experiences, the photos and the yearbooks and the notes passed in class, into a box and store it away in family attics to be forgotten for decades. Instead, many teens and young adults post them on Facebook, on Flickr, on YouTube. And the Internet never forgets. Many of us left a good collection of boxed memories in various parental attics because we couldn’t bear to part with the memories yet we also didn’t want to haul them around with us to the next stage of life. Now teens and young adults who make serious mistakes online may very well find these memories following them for years.

Some of these mistakes may take the form of a hastily posted comment that ends a friendship, or it may be photos of a party last Saturday night that Grandma really didn’t need to see. Complaints about a current employer won’t endear our patrons to any potential employer, and in some instances the current employer is upset enough that she quickly becomes a former employer. Lawsuits, even felony charges, have been brought against teens and young adults who have created digital media that humiliates or harasses classmates, and sadly we all know tragic examples of social media leading to a young person’s suicide. From consequences so small that they may not even notice them to the tragic that will haunt them for the rest of their lives, e-reputations have tremendous and deep power over the lives of our teen and young adult patrons.

The following are a few tips that we as librarians can share with teen and young adult patrons when discussing e-reputations:

1. Have a plan and understand your boundaries. If you know what you want from social media before you post, you will make better decisions. Making a plan and understanding your boundaries of what you will post and what you won’t will also help you to make consistently better decisions and build a good e-reputation. 

2. Pause before you post. Don’t post or text in anger, while under stress, or while under the influence of mind-altering substances.

3. Consider your audience and think outside your bubble. We are all fallible and our audience is often larger than we realize. What your friends think is funny may be misunderstood by acquaintances or strangers.

4. Take responsibility! Consider your actions carefully, check your privacy settings, and be aware that there is a human on the other side of every online comment that you make. Be a conscious creator of online content. When in doubt, err on the side of speaking kindly or saying nothing at all.

Amy Campbell is a Reference Librarian at Marshall Public Library. Kath Ann Hendricks is a Young Adult Librarian at Marshall Public Library.

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