Ask a lot of teenagers what they do with their free time and they’ll list off their sports or creative outlets like music or acting. What they may not mention is their frequent social media use. A recent survey shows that some 92 percent of American teens accessed the internet on a daily basis, where 56 percent claim to connect several times a day, and 24 percent are constantly connected to the internet.
In a society that’s more connected than ever, social media—including popular destinations like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat—can be a great way to keep in touch with others. However, could what you’re putting on the internet actually be detrimental? Here, two USMA graduates, Jermaine A. Clark (‘05, living in New York City) and Rob Boeckmann (‘12, living in Germany), working in media offer up best-practice social media suggestions for incoming cadets:
1. Be authentic. Social media is an online community for sharing. When you’re communicating on these platforms, be true to who you are and don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. Clark’s advice: “I’m sure you’ve seen some of your friend’s posts and how they don’t actually match reality, don’t be that person.”
2. Create posts that align with West Point and the Army’s values. The Army has seven values: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. All cadets and cadet candidates should portray these values in their character and content. When posting content to your feed, think about the message you’re sending. “You want to put yourself in the shoes of your average American,” says Boeckmann. “Keep things positive on your feed and show others that not only are you worthy of hardworking taxpayers' dollars, but you are also ready to accept the responsibility of representing the institution.”
3. Give all of your posts a second read. Not only should your content reflect USMA values, but it should also be intelligent and well-crafted. That means it’s your responsibility to give everything a second read. Correct spelling and grammar, and accurate information are critical. Although the use of internet shorthand (think abbreviations like TBD or FYI) and emojis are generally acceptable, it’s still a great idea to give your posts a second read before you hit the post button.
4. Curate your timeline: Social media isn’t an out of sight, out of mind sort of thing. Anyone is capable of scrolling back through your various feeds and seeing what you were up to back in the original days of when your account was new. Although there can be some sentimental value to photos or posts from years ago, you should think about how others might interpret your content. Consider going through your timeline and cleaning up your history. You’re free to post what you want and to be yourself, but you also don’t want to leave anything to chance if something you’ve written or a photo you posted might not reflect you at your best. Think of social media as an extension of yourself, similar to a public resume.
“If you posted something a few years back and that’s not how you want to be viewed today, you may want to curate your timeline,” says Clark. “Think of it this way: if it’s acceptable to your parents, boss, or favorite teacher, then it’s probably ok.”
5. Know when to put social media away. Once admitted to USMA, there’s a pretty strict policy for when it’s OK and not OK to use your mobile phone. “You can’t be walking around with your face in your phone, it looks bad and it’s certainly against military professionalism,” says Boeckmann. “Your attention should be on the task at hand. You can’t have your phone on during class; but, it’s free for use in the barracks.”
Caught with mobile phone at the wrong time? Prepare for duties (military chores) galore. First time infractions are typically corrected with counseling, but second time infractions are sure to draw the ire of your peers and platoon leadership.
6. The bottom line about your social media content is that it reflects who you really are. West Point recruits, trains, educates, and commissions leaders of character - if your social media content does not reflect good character, then we probably aren’t looking for you to join the Long Gray Line. If you’ve made mistakes, own up to them, learn, and get better every day – and let your content reflect that.