The shares of social media users that consist of 18- to 29-year-olds may surprise you. According to the Pew Research Center, 88 percent of the 18 to 29 age demographic use at least one social media site. The most popular platform is Facebook, followed by Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter. 

Our engagement on social media has far-reaching effects on the image we share with the rest of the world. Staying engaged on these websites may lead to a job or internship. And conversely, a simple Google search of your name may produce information that disagrees with the portrait you want to share with future employers. 

At Elon University, social media websites are important platforms for clubs and organizations to share information with their members about upcoming meetings and events. They allow students to maintain relationships with others who study abroad or participate in Study USA programs. But they can also distract members of our community from engaging with significant experiences both on and off campus.

As our community continues to grow in this information age, it’s crucial that our online selves complement our real-life aspirations for personal, academic or professional growth. We should be aware of how social media poses a real problem for the spread and misuse of information. 

The interface between user and programmer is not always transparent. An overflow of information exists on the Internet, and not all sources offer valid or factual information. Moreover, sensational media online may lead you to make misinformed decisions. With recent headlines about privacy risks on Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites, it’s important that you understand how to protect your digital self. 

There are several measures you can take to protect your online profile. The Elon Technology Blog offers the following tips: only reveal personal information to trusted sources, minimize the personal information you share on social media sites and stay updated on privacy policies. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission recommends that we modify our privacy settings before posting any information, minimize the amount of biographical information others can view, never give financial information on a social media website, pick a “strong” password and change it frequently, use caution with public computers or wireless connections and make sure our devices are password protected. You should also stay informed on social media privacy laws based on the state or country in which you reside. Certain states have protections that forbid employers to access applicants’ social media accounts. 

People are taking significant steps to change their online presence. For instance, amid national concerns over Facebook’s involvement with the spread of “fake news,” the Pew Research Center confirms that U.S. adults have adjusted how much time they spend on Facebook. A survey conducted from May to June of 2018 revealed that 54 percent of U.S. adults adjusted their privacy settings, 42 percent took a break from checking the site for several weeks and 26 percent deleted the app from their phone. 

Whatever you decide on how frequently you wish to engage with the site, we as a student body should collectively strive to be responsible Facebook users because of the major role it plays in how we communicate with each other. For instance, when you scroll down your feed, avoid sensationalist headlines that provide links to information originating from unreliable sources.

No matter your year at Elon, managing your social media activity should be of high priority. It is on us to avoid untrustworthy sources that spread misinformation. Take the precaution of protecting your digital self before your real self suffers unfortunate consequences because of your decision making.