On Being More Mindful Online:

I’ve been thinking a lot about the rules that govern our interactions online.

More specifically, I’ve been thinking about how there seem to be no real rules. People online, myself included, seem to live their e-lives haphazardly, without any real thought to the bigger picture. In order to be more thoughtful about my use of social media, I’ve come up with a few rules that I may help everyone out:

  1. Automatically like any selfie a friend posts. There is nothing worse than feeling confident enough to post a selfie online and then receiving no interactions. Friends that put themselves out there, especially given how the Internet loves to judge every flaw, are showing no small amount of courage — the least you can do is acknowledge their effort.
  2. Cross posting on multiple sites does not guarantee multiple likes. Nobody is obligated to “heart” your photo on Instagram and “like” it on Facebook. Etiquette dictates you get one interaction on one site. Bulk posting across multiple platforms doesn’t obligate your followers to express approval on every site they follow you on.
  3. Have an authentic moment every once and a while. While everyone curates their posts based on their audience and the medium, we shouldn’t turn ourselves into just commodities. The people following you are following you, an actual person. Casual photos that aren’t retouched in an app and filtered to death, heartfelt posts about a topic you’re passionate about, or even just an anecdote from your daily life — incorporate more moments where the digital version of yourself resembles the actual you.
  4. Purge your stream periodically. When you follow someone online, you are letting them into your digital life. You carry their thoughts in your pocket and you see their behavior in your stream. Every so often, really question whether you’ve let the right people into your life. While there are guides online that detail how to do this, my personal suggestion is to focus on followers that show you something new (and mute those who don’t).
  5. Write the ‘Happy Birthday’ message on Facebook. Every day you are given the opportunity to reach out to people who, for one reason or another, are in your digital life — take it, even if you barely know the person anymore. “Happy Birthday” messages are more than just a socially acceptable way to restart a relationship, they also refresh the algorithm that dictates what you see on your stream.
  6. Learn how to use your privacy settings. Sharing a meme you found online? Public viewership should be fine. Sharing a moment of frustration with your housemates? That is going to require a smaller lens. Learn how to limit the reach of your posts online to specific audiences. Not only will it keep your Great Aunt Sheba from commenting at inopportune times, you’ll also be able to craft posts specifically tailored to your audience.

I’m sure there are more, but I think these “rules” will help me (and maybe others) be more mindful about how they are interracting online.

S. Alexander Smith is an academic and writer in Los Angeles. You can follow him on Twitter @The_SAlexander. If you like what you read, make sure to follow on Medium and recommend this story on your networks (mindfully).