YourTurn winners: How do you respectfully express yourself online?

First place: Hilary Wickenhauser
Second place: Emma Casey

Editor’s note: In an emotional moment, it’s easy to type out a snarky response to someone’s post. Or think a picture is hilarious, but later realize it’s probably offensive. But what if you’re just a sarcastic person? Or unafraid to express your opinions?

This month’s essay winners talk about rules and boundaries they’ve set for themselves to help keep it professional on social media. Through mistakes they’ve made – or seen others make – these essayists have learned to practice empathy and thoughtfulness as they see the greater perspective of social media’s influence.

First Place ($100 prize)

Hilary Wickenhauser
Main Street School for the Performing Arts

Judge’s notes: This one has a strong, attention-grabbing opening. This essay also stood out for using a specific, personal example, a narrative, to illustrate the more general argument the writer asserts; the story helps bring to life how online comments can be misinterpreted. Finally, the voice and tone were distinctive and conversational yet professional, with a number of deft word choices, like “Internet worship” and “social media is a delicate dance.”

Nowadays, it seems that the Internet has been elevated to a god-like status. Teenagers often talk about not knowing what to do without it. Much of this Internet worship is related to online social media. Because of social media, we are allowed to do and say much more than we ever were before in an indirect way to thousands of other people.

With everyone’s different opinions being expressed online through popular social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, one needs to be very careful about what they say and do online. If you say anything the wrong way or post the wrong picture, you potentially risk damaging both your friendships and your future.

I know this to be true because of an experience I have had on one of these social media sites. It started as a simple post about what I did that weekend and how I was so glad that I was home alone the entire time. When I posted this I didn’t think about how others may interpret it. I am a very sarcastic person so I though everyone who read it would understand and see it as such. Not even an hour later I was bombarded with messages asking “Why would you say something like that?” and “Are you alright?” and inquiries concerned that I was depressed. I had intended for it to be a snarky quip at my dull weekend, but it ended up being interpreted as a stab at my friends and myself. Because of this simple, stupid post, people still go out of their way to invite me places, which can be extremely annoying because sometimes I want to be alone. If this experience has taught me anything- aside from learning to tone down my sarcasm- it is that the things you read online can be viewed and interpreted in an entirely different way from the way you intended it to be.

Although it is important to express yourself freely and have fun doing so, recognize that there is a fine line between being yourself and being perceived as an opinionated jerk. Considering this, as a matter of principle, I avoid highly controversial topics online because I refuse to have my entire personality dictated by a comment I made that I didn’t even care or think much about. Plus, I have found that when even one political or controversial comment is made using social media, it is much more noticeable than one made in real life.

Portraying oneself via social media is a delicate dance between expressing the real you while also respecting the different views of others. Remember that anyone can see what you say online and that it cannot be deleted from the minds of those who read it. Use caution, but still be you. Just be the you that you want represented.

Second Place ($50 prize)

Emma Casey
Barnum High School

Judge’s notes: This essay is clear and concise and responds directly to the question. The writer gives practical ideas about how to achieve balance. The suggestions for balance are thoughtful and mature – people of any age can use this advice!

In balancing the freedom to be yourself on social media with risking offending others or damaging your reputation, there are a few approaches to keeping it real and staying professional. First of all, if you wouldn’t say it in person, don’t say it on the Internet. This is important because it is easy to be insensitive over a screen. Try to picture the people who will see the post. What do their faces look like? If it’s a look of disappointment, disgust, or anger, maybe reword or rethink what you were about to put on social media.

Second, try asking yourself, “Do people need or want to see this?” It seems as though the people who post all the time are the ones who don’t have a life outside of social media. It can annoy others if you continually post pointless things and may lead to negative backlash you don’t want.

Third, it’s okay to be a quiet observer and just think your response in your head. It’s not necessary to comment on every single item that passes your social media feed; in fact, that sounds exhausting. Instead try talking it out with a friend or sibling. This allows you to express your opinion without the whole world seeing it. Privacy is a good thing, people!

Lastly, consider whether you would be okay with a future employer seeing what you post. The Internet is a vast place, but also easily searchable. It’s important to not get out of control, because what you said at age 15 can come back and bite you in the butt at age 22.

Bottom line: just be careful, considerate, and mature in your choices on social media.

Third Place ($30 prize)

Melody Millard
Shakopee East Junior High

Judge’s notes: The writer makes good points about being aware of what you post online, including responding to friends’ comments. She has a heightened awareness of how easy it is to become triggered by negative comments online, so she recommends removing oneself from these situations. The writer does a fine job of explaining how one can “unfollow” someone without causing unnecessary hurt by “unfriending”.

Social Networking is a form of status. It is the way to connect to friends and family today. It allows teenagers to express themselves, but this can risk offending others or damaging their own reputation.

The way that I balance the freedom to be myself on social media without offending others is by “following” people who post friendly, uplifting things. I have many people on my Facebook who I look up to and admire, and I make sure to follow them instead of those who inappropriately use it. When I see something on my newsfeed that is offensive or is an extremely passive insult such as, “Ugh! You would say that…” Or, “Okay… don’t respond to me when I apologize!” I will usually remove their posts from my newsfeed. This is a really nice way to keep things that break your heart away from you. This way, you are not “unfriending” them, you are just preventing yourself from seeing their posts on your newsfeed.

Since my newsfeed is always filled with inspiring things, I actually feel refreshed after spending some time on the internet. I don’t get angry with people’s remarks since I have blocked them, and I stay in a good mood. This also prevents me from accidentally damaging my reputation because I am only interacting with people that I know I can trust. Yet, I am still “friends” with those from my school, but they cannot know that I blocked their information from showing up in my newsfeed.

Knowing the risks is important, because anyone can see what you are doing. Search your usernames on Google, and make sure you are pleased with what pops up.