Our social media legacy — it’s important to filter what we share


You’ve probably thought of the values, knowledge, and possessions you want to pass on to your children. But have you ever considered what kind of social media legacy you will leave for them?

We may never have the opportunity to find out what kind of character our distant ancestors had, but with social media we have the ability to show our future descendants who we are.

Most people would be thrilled to find out that one of their relatives articulately spoke out against slavery in the south at a public square in the mid-1800s. However, you wouldn’t be as excited to find out that your relative just yelled out epithets anytime slavery was brought up. And you would be downright ashamed if you learned that they spoke in favor of slavery any chance they had.

And while we are not living through a civil war, we are in a highly divisive and unnerving political climate, which can lead to regrettable behavior on social media.

Why politics gets us heated

Research has shown that when your political views are challenged, the brain becomes active in regions associated with personal identity, threat response, and emotions.

So it makes sense that when you see a post in your feed that makes your political blood boil, you may go overboard with a comment or two.

It’s easy to forget, though, that what you post on social media becomes a record of your life. All of your posts, comments, and actions could one day be found and studied by your great-great-grandchildren.

What you share

It’s not just what you say, though, it’s also what you share. You can learn a lot about someone from what they choose to spread on social media.

You may vehemently oppose President Trump, but sharing memes of the commander-in-chief’s face over a swastika is an uncivil way to engage in political debate about his policies. The same holds true with  sharing a “news story” that President Barack Obama was born in Kenya. It reveals your ignorance for the whole world to see.

It’s no different than when someone cuts you off on the road. It may feel good to give them the rated R version of how you feel, but you probably wouldn’t do that with your child in the car.

Just as it might give you a sense of satisfaction to share something on Facebook that is crass, but would it still be worth it if your kids saw you doing it?

Now imagine if it was possible that every one of those kind of moments could be found by those you want to make proud.

That’s social media.

Leaving a proud legacy

There’s a flipside to this, though. Envision the positive legacy you could leave for those to come.

In fact, we all have the ability to do something truly incredible. Our digital footprint is a way to directly communicate to future generations.

From the thoughtful posts you craft, to the intelligent content you share, to the way you respectfully handle opposing views — it can all send a message and set a precedent for those with whom you want to leave an impression. We all have the power to show what side of history we were on and how we responded to our times.

The polarization of everything

From Charlottesville, to Hurricane Harvey, to even the Super Bowl — everything now is a ticking time-bomb for an explosive political debate. It’s easy to get caught up in the polarization, because anything can become vitriolic on social media at any point.

The temptations may not go away, but neither will your social media legacy. Fortunately, you have control over your digital footprint.

Next time you post

There’s an old adage: if you’re doing something that you’re not sure is right, ask what you would do if your grandparents were in the room.

Well, what would you do if all future generations were in the room as you posted on Facebook? Because in a way, they are.

Adam Chiara is an assistant professor of communication at the University of Hartford. He has worked as a legislative aide in the Connecticut General Assembly, as a journalist, and as a public relations practitioner. You can find him on Twitter at @AdamChiara.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

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