What is power? Consider the whistleblowers who can, with a few anonymous posts, leak information that shakes up a huge corporation or a government. Or the community that, after being devastated by a natural disaster, rallies and organizes assistance through tweets and Facebook posts. Or the college student who can, with a green screen and a cheap camera, transform himself into a popular movie
critic. Thank social media for all of that. 

As with all forms of great power, there's a flip side. Social media makes it possible to connect with loved ones, acquaintances, and strangers who share your interests; it also makes it possible for other people to paint a one-sided picture of you that's hard to control. It allows information to spread quickly, but that information might be incorrect or damaging. Social media is also quite deceptive: the "little guy" can turn him or herself into a powerful voice for his or her cause; the bully can be a jerk 24/7 to a huge audience. And, of course, social media can be addictive and a waste of time. But you already know this, right?

In this chapter, we'll discuss:

  • Connecting with friends and family via social media
  • Building a good online presence—now and into your future
  • Risks of social media
  • Ways to improve privacy and security online

Connecting via Social Media

As a 21st century college student, you have broad reach. You can connect easily with all sorts of people and groups and maintain those connections. It can also give you a platform for building connections with other students, instructors, and
even alumni.

Incidentally, one challenge you'll have as a first-year student might be connecting to your new environment with the people right next to you. You know, the physical ones. Social media also makes it simple to stay in touch with everyone at home.

Imagine! You can be at a huge party surrounded by new friends and you can video chat with your parents at the same time! (OK, you might not want to be connected with everybody all the time.)

In fact, one of the big benefits—and possible drawbacks—of social media for the first-year college student is staying tethered to home. It can help ease the pain of homesickness because you can see your loved ones—at least on a screen—as often as you want. Touching base with what's familiar, whether it's the sound of your Dad's voice or a picture sent from your best friend, may help you feel happier and more ready to engage with the unfamiliar. It can also make homesickness worse, though, if you are so tied to the people back there that you don't take time to connect in real time to the people and places here. Or, you might find yourself wanting to immerse yourself in your new surroundings, but someone back home texts you twenty times a day and wants to Skype every evening. For some students, such frequent communication with home is a joy and for others it's a pet peeve. Don't be surprised if the first few months of college are an adjustment period as you figure out how to live at school and "visit" home, rather than "living" at home
and visiting school.

Your (Online) Identity

If you are like 94% of your peers, you already have an online identity. You've probably been using Facebook and Twitter for years and have already built an online presence. But here's a concept many people who use social media are just beginning to grasp: FOREVER. Your online presence will stick around for a lot longer than the technology you're using to drive it. There's no shame in acting childish or saying things we wish we hadn't, but the internet isn't a forgiving place. Things stick around. No need to panic, but there are some things you need to know to keep your personal identity and your online identity under control.

In this section we'll discuss how to manage your online presence so that it helps you in the future rather than holding you back.

First, take stock of your current online profile. Here's a handy exercise: Google yourself to see what others can easily find out about you. Odds are, you've already done this exercise on someone else. See anything interesting? If you end up with a few innocuous results (your little league batting average or a graduation picture, for instance), you are in a great position, as you can simply monitor your online presence and make sure nothing gets linked to your name that you don't want. You'll also want to build on that presence, which we'll get to in a moment.

Second, delete or bury content, if necessary. If you do have blog posts, pictures, or other items online that could potentially embarrass you or limit your chances of finding and keeping a job in the future, simply delete them, if possible. It's not likely that you can remove the images or content from every source, but you can try to bury it by increasing favorable content. For instance, some people use LinkedIn, Twitter, or Pinterest, because activity on those websites makes their most relevant and recent content most visible. It's no different than what many companies do to help their brand. You can do the same thing.

Make an Impression with Online Posts or TweetsAnother way to bury negative items is to create a new website or blog and add to it regularly.

Finally, think about your future online identity. What do you want future connections, colleagues, employers and potential employers to learn about you when they search for you online? They do check. You can build up a professional presence with LinkedIn and Twitter and following those organizations that relate to your academic interests. For example, a student passionate about marine biology might become a digital advocate for the group Ocean Conservancy. Connecting with organizations you're genuinely interested in will keep you up to date on the latest news in your field and might also lead you to internship opportunities. Who knows, your social media savvy might compel the organizations you're interested in to hire you to manage their own social media presence. It happens all the time.

Don't worry if you don't have your professional goals all figured out at this stage. If you do know what you want to do when you graduate from college, you can start building a more specific professional presence online now. If you aren't sure what you want to do next semester much less in four years, you can still establish a foundational professional
presence online now.

Social Media Risks & Ways to Improve Privacy and Security

What are the risks of social media? Our engagement on social media starts with taking a risk: we give up certain privacy in order to connect with others or have access to something we want. Once you're in, it's simply a matter of limiting or increasing your risk.

Behaviors that increase your risk:

  • Posting personal information, including phone number, address, and
  • date of birth
  • Posting personal plans (for example, when you're leaving town, which
  • route you're traveling)
  • Sharing images and text that you'd be embarrassed about if they got
  • out or existed forever (assume both will happen)
  • Password and PIN laziness: As we discuss in Chapter 3, you want
  • strong passwords even if they're hard to remember
  • Not using privacy settings and not paying attention when privacy
  • settings change
  • Clicking before thinking. If people paused before clicking, there would be fewer victims of scams (Best Buy is giving away free televisions!!! Click "like" and submit your name and email address to claim yours!!) and fewer apologies necessary (Sorry about previous tweet. My info was wrong.)

Carnegie Mellon researchers foundUnfortunately, there are some things out of our control entirely. People have had their lives turned upside down by all sorts of jerks, some of them criminal and some not. For example, in addition to the scammers, phishers, and catfishers, there are people who create social media accounts in others' names and use the platform to bully. There are others who repost sexy or obscene pictures (real or edited) and try to charge the victim money to remove them.

It's revolutionary, evolving, pervasive, and powerful. While social media modes change quickly, they all satisfy a basic human need: to communicate. Unlike the days when humans gathered around the fire pit, however, the communication now is easily replicated and archived forever. We have just hundreds of cave paintings from early humans, and millions of silly pet videos from modern humans. Whether you use social media to entertain or to inform, whether you use it to create or curate, use it wisely.

Social Media Exercises

  1. Google yourself and note the top twenty hits your search yields. What would someone else learn about you if they were to Google your name?
  2. Consider your social media use. How much of it is dedicated to consuming content? To creating content? To curating content?
  3. Working with a small group of classmates, discuss the use of social media in your classes: How are professors integrating social media
  4. tools? How are students it to work together? How are students using it to learn or conduct research?
  5. Working with a small group of classmates, discuss what you see as an up-and-coming social media site or platform. What makes it appealing? What are its potential uses?


for more resources and exercises.