Spring break during your freshman year was awesome. It was one of those life-changing, earth-shattering moments you’ll never forget. And neither will your Instagram followers. At the time, you didn’t think twice about posting those raunchy pics. Here’s why you should’ve:

The Internet is Forever

You’ve heard it before. Whatever you post online stays online. Is that really true? Does the delete button actually lose its power online? Yes, it does. But why?

One reason is you don’t get to explore the internet by yourself. Sure, you have the power to upload and download, but so do other people. As for those spring break pics you posted (regrettably), chances are someone you know already saw them. Were they printed? Reposted? Emailed? Whatever happened, there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it now. In fact, those pics may already exist in online circles you don’t even know about.

But let’s forget about your thousands of followers for a while and think about the companies that allow you to share your thoughts, beliefs, and experiences online. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, WhatsApp, and Instagram are all extremely popular platforms around the world. Facebook though, is on a completely different level than the others. In fact, both WhatsApp and Instagram are owned by Facebook.

Despite its size, influence, and world-class tech team though, Facebook has had a number of privacy policy scandals in recent years. By now, we all know about the political mess caused by Cambridge Analytica. But even individual users may feel they need more control of their personal data on a day-to-day basis. In Laura’s case, posts she deleted from her Facebook profile randomly re-appeared months later.

What was Facebook’s explanation? “Some of this information is permanently deleted from our servers; however, some things can only be deleted when you permanently delete your account.” What does that mean? Essentially, your deleted content is stored in a backup drive somewhere…“temporarily.” It doesn’t magically disappear as Facebook’s bigwigs may want you to think.

Here’s another reason not to post inappropriate stuff online: hackers. Whether through your email or social media accounts, hackers have the power to access what you’ve already posted, and uncover data you’ve already deleted. And what type of data are you likely to have deleted in the past few months? Oh, nothing much. Just a few confidential email conversations, credit card reports, and embarrassing photos. What you thought was gone forever may be unexpectedly unhashed. The simple truth, dear friends, is the cloud isn’t as secure as these companies say it is.

Why An Unerasable Past Matters

Source: Inzmam Khan (Pexels)

So now you know your posts are basically going to stay online forever. But hey, does that even matter in the grand scheme of things? You better believe it does. Let’s consider the multitude of ways you could be sabotaging your own future.

For starters, inappropriate posts can (and probably will) damage your reputation. Offensive opinions and illegal acts shared online may resurface and cause you to lose the respect other people have for you. Online activities that are in breach of your school’s cyber policy may result in the loss of certain privileges as well as detention, probation, suspension, or expulsion. The same thing can happen if you’re employed. Dan Grilo lost his job for mocking the widow of a Navy Seal on Twitter. In fact, any negative comments you post after reading this article may be the very reason you lose your job in the future. So I’d be careful if I were you.

Having established that your online past cannot be erased (regardless of how much you may want it to be), let’s consider a few things you should and shouldn’t do when you’re surfing the internet.

Stuff You Should NOT do:

1. Post inappropriate pictures or videos

For heaven’s sake, don’t post any embarrassing or tasteless pics online. Even if you had fun partying, a photo of you drunk outside a nightclub is not exactly the type of image your future boss or mother-in-law wants to see. Keep your private moments just that, private.

2. Share personal information

While you do have to use your real name for many legal activities online, that does not mean you should be forthcoming with other personal information. Never share your address, photos of your driver’s license, or any other kind of ID on the internet. Never share your current location online as burglars may be waiting until they’re sure you’re out of town. And as much as possible, try to keep your professional life separate from your personal social media account.

3. Share political views

Though freedom of speech is important, in some spaces, it may be better to keep your political views to yourself. The internet is one of those spaces. The opinions you share online may cause you to lose out on opportunities for employment and trigger backlash that may tarnish your reputation. Save political discussions and debates for face-to-face conversations where your non-verbal cues can be processed, and tempers can be more easily controlled.

Stuff You SHOULD do:

The Real Reason You Should Be Responsible Online

Source: Pixabay (Pexels)

1. Post content you are comfortable with everyone seeing

Before you post about being tired of picking up your partner’s smelly socks or unmentionables, remember that what you share online cannot be taken back. Only post about things you’d be comfortable with your spouse, children, parents, workmates, and religious brethren all seeing. If you’re already worried about how Katie will respond to what you’re thinking of posting, don’t post it.

2. Say things online that you would also say in person

Be honest, aren’t you a little braver when you’re hidden behind your computer screen? That extra bit of confidence may tempt you to post online messages that you’d never say to someone else’s face. It’s important to remember that your actions on the internet can have serious repercussions in the real world. And you can’t stay hidden online forever, can you?

3. Read and follow cyber policies

Every online platform you use has some sort of cyber policy. So if you use Yahoo, Gmail, Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, make an effort to read the terms and conditions associated with each of them. Sure, it sucks to read all that info but more knowledge will only help you in the long run. And as best as you can, abide by the rules stipulated in those policies. Do the same with cyber policies instituted by your school or workplace.

4. Only share content that belongs to you

This is a surefire way to keep yourself out of hot water. Never share any content online that you didn’t create yourself. If you didn’t create it, it doesn’t belong to you, and you forfeit the right to share it freely. This includes pictures, videos, and memes you see posted elsewhere. Only post other people’s content with their permission and always give them credit.

You live in a world where you are accountable for your actions. And while you may think you can get away with your random outbursts and online nonsense now, who knows what may pop up further down the road? The truth is, the delete button doesn’t really work online so it pays to be a responsible global citizen. You can actually save yourself a world of hurt in the future by being nice when you’re using the internet today. Don’t believe me? Just ask any of these people.