This is a topic that is necessary to touch on. It’s something that I have only a small amount of experience with relative to the rest of my career, but I know a few things. What I have learned is that indeed, the Internet is Forever, and that’s a good and a scary thing. It’s a super powerful tool, that can promote your shows, communicate with the cast and crew, post picture galleries to look back on, even sell tickets and post/read/share reviews. At the risk of sounding frighteningly like Spider-Man’s grandfather, with great power comes great responsibility. (Yep, I sounded just like him there. Frightening.) You need to be very, very mindful of how you use the internet during your time in school as well as beyond, and throughout your career. Here are the few things that I know:
1 . Anyone can find what you put out there. If not today, or tomorrow, then ten years from now or twenty; but nothing is totally encrypted, people share stuff all over (Everyone Talks is true a thousandfold on the Net). As a rule of thumb, think of the person whose respect and opinion you value the most. If they would approve of what you are about to post, send, tweet or text, go for it. If you are in doubt, DON’T.
2. Today is temporary. Your feelings and opinions and circle of friends change. What gets put out there in Cyberworld never does. What you emailed or tweeted about a “certain person” who is not your friend this week but who is your bestie next year after working really hard to change negative things about themselves will, at some point, make its way into your budding friendship. Nothing is ever truly deleted. Ever.
3. Permission matters. Before you post rehearsal pictures of people, ask them to be certain that it’s OK with them. You could be working with people who really have a phobia about pictures of themselves being available online, or even with kids whose parents don’t know they are in a play. Respect their privacy and personal choices. If they say no, DON’T POST IT. Delete it, crop that person out, or print it and put it in your own personal physical paper photo album for your eyes only, but don’t post it.
4. If you are doing something dumb, don’t put it on Facebook. As you are building this stellar reputation of yours, one of the dumbest things you could do to sabotage it would be to be messing around backstage, at a time you are not supposed to be there, doing something you are not supposed to be doing, and then take a picture of it and put it on Facebook. Believe it or not, the director will probably see it. Maybe even before the end of rehearsal. That Interweb thing is darn fast.
5. Idiots abound. Don’t be one. You are going to see stuff posted about you and your shows and the drama club in general that are not going to be complimentary. From bad reviews to crude comments to actual cyberbullying, at some point you are likely to find yourself hurt and angry. I am going to plead with you now not to respond in kind. If it is a true cyberbullying situation (someone with power over you is deliberately using computers to attack you, make you feel left out, or cut you down), print the offending material (and the link) and take it to a trusted adult who can do something about it. If it is not bullying, but just jealous, ignorant people, or even reviewers who just didn’t like your show, leave them be. You can’t please all the people all the time, not everyone will like you, you don’t like everyone else either. Let them be them, you be you. That takes practice. Start now. And recognize how much something read in print on the screen, written by someone you may not even know, whose opinion you didn’t care about until just now- how much that stings. Be mindful of that when you are tempted to post something about another activity, group or individual.
The last bit I want to touch on is specifically social media and your teachers/coaches/directors/etc.- the adults with whom you work. You may send them friend requests which do not get accepted. This is NOT because they don’t like you! Especially in public schools, there is generally a policy of some type against adults and young people being in touch on public social media. That’s because, unfortunately, in the world that we have built, social media is a place where some adults and children have had or begun inappropriate relationships. Even when the relationship is totally professional and above board, parents have made accusations and young people have made accusations that have destroyed lives. Even as you shout, “Never!” yes, it has happened, is happening, and will continue to happen, but less so when adults and children keep their online lives separate from one another. In fact, you would make it a lot easier on your adults if you did not send them friend requests until after your 18th birthday AND your graduation day.
On that same note, if you are emailing and/or texting your director, keep it SUPER professional, to the point and short. No inside jokes, fun facts, or comments/questions that might be interpreted oddly. Just “I’m going to be 15 minutes late to rehearsal” is plenty (though, of course, don’t be late to rehearsal). You don’t want anyone a year later to be able to point at something you wrote as the start of an inappropriate friendship.
Likewise, if you are getting friend requests from a teacher, DO NOT ACCEPT. Immediately report it to your principal. The same with any texts or emails that make you feel weird in the least. That’s the one time you don’t want to go to the source- that can get even weirder. Don’t try responding, even to ask them to stop. Just go to the principal, and let them deal with it. They have a process. Not your fault, don’t worry about causing trouble or ruffling feathers, just report it. Trust me. When in doubt, ask the guidance counselor or another adult at school that you trust.