Think before you post
People have a habit of behaving differently online than they do in person - the large audience is invisible, so many feel protected by their screens. This can be a positive thing, like someone feeling more confident to open up and be themselves. But sometimes people will misuse social networks to shame and bully others.
Posting online is instant, public and more often than not, permanent. Once you post, you lose all control of what happens to it - it only takes one friend to share it on their own profiles for it to be completely out of your hands.
Too often young people are finding their posts coming back to haunt them. Universities, future employers and schools can easily find a trail of your online identity. If they don't like what they see, it can mean a serious loss of opportunity. You may even find yourself in trouble with the police.
The cyber world is the real world with real consequences, so make sure you always ask yourself the following before you hit send!
Will I feel good or different about it later?
Social media comes with one golden rule, don't post when you are angry. A split second of rage can have permanent consequences.
Why am I posting?
Is this something you really want to post, does it really reflect your personality and values? Don't follow the crowd or post just to gain attention, as you might not like the response you get back.
Would I say this in person?
No? Then don't say it online. Social accounts are managed by real people with real feelings. If you talk about someone online, think about whether you would feel embarrassed or ashamed if you saw them in person. If so, you may want to ask again, why am I posting?
Can this be interpreted differently?
Sarcasm and irony do not often transfer well into writing, especially in a short social media post. Think about how others may read it; could it be seen as offensive?
Am I being kind?
Treat others with the respect that you would like to receive. If you read it about yourself, would it make you feel good?
Is it really private?
People often excuse inappropriate posts based on the idea that the conversation is private, as it is on a private account. Consider how many connections you have, are all these people very close friends? Can you trust that each one of them won't share or talk about your post with others? Facebook statistics suggest that the average young user has up to 300 online friends. This private profile suddenly doesn't seem so private at all.
Do I have permission?
You might find that badly angled photograph of your friend amusing, but the likelihood is that they will not. Be respectful of other people's privacy; don't share photos or information that will embarrass or humiliate someone.
Would I like me?
If you were a stranger looking in at your profile, what would you think? If most of your posts are in some way critical, unkind, offensive or negative, how do you think you are being perceived?
Is it legal?
In the eyes of the law, posting online is not the same as having an informal chat with your friends. Posting is publishing, just the same as if it was written in the newspaper. Even if your profile is private, you do not own what you publish - meaning anyone can use it as evidence. Make sure you do not post anything that might get you into trouble with the law. Harassment, hate speech, threats of violence, ruining someone's reputation and pictures or comments suggesting illegal activity can all be used against you.