The online etiquette of the ‘selfie generation’

Andrea Ayala

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What may be considered as innocent and completely acceptable for one person may be completely different for another

ANDREA AYALAGrowing up in a Filipino society, my friends and I have been preached the dos and don’ts of appropriate dinner table manners. We’re all too familiar with the scenario at our Titas house when our mother scolds us:  “don’t put your elbows on the table, chew with your mouth closed, don’t forget to beso goodbye.” We may have groaned at such strict regulations of behavior when we were young, but it’s strongly benefited us as we approached the age of adult formality.


Despite our parent’s best intentions, however, in the modern world of online interactions, one discipline we 21st century teenagers aren’t equipped with is the notion of social network etiquette.


Stuck in the middle of the social network revolution, we have indulged ourselves in the acts of updating statuses, uploading photos and commenting on everything in between, without quite understanding the repercussions of it all.


With the exclusivity of sites like Facebook, that give us control over our privacy and can limit what specific people see in our profiles, we tend to be more confident online—adding in extra witty comments here and there, perhaps posting more risqué photographs. Yet, perplexing as always, social networking sites blur the lines between proper versus improper manners online.


The truth is, no matter how much we try to control our appearance online, not everyone who sees our profile is going to approve of what we do.

What is proper?


Unlike the defined social manners of Filipino culture, social networking sites aren’t exclusive to a single culture, but used by millions of people from varying parts of the world. In this way, it is not easy to devise a single criteria for proper behavior online—what may be considered as innocent and completely acceptable for one person may be completely different for another. 


Joshua Sorono, who is a fourth year high school student at an international school and an active user of Facebook and Twitter, remarked that with the globalized nature of our generation, people from widely different cultural backgrounds can see what we post everyday. In addition, their newsfeed can force them to look at photos and information that they might be offended by or not necessarily agree with. Joshua says an enthusiastic post embracing a LGBTQ (lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender-queer) group may upset someone who was brought up in a secular home and doesn’t strongly agree with homosexuality.  


Although decency online can be defined by offensive or insulting content, it is actually a lot more complex than that. We deem posts inappropriate, not just because they make us feel personally uncomfortable, but because they are disintegrating or rude towards others.


Another student, 17-year-old Joy Yuen, recalls an incident when a friend of hers, who was participating on a local television reality singing competition, was chosen by judges to advance to the next round of a talent show. Joy says that when a video of her friend was posted online, many people commented on the post with derogatory remarks, accusing the girl of having slept with the judges to make it to the next round.


Joy felt that the comments were particularly undignified because they were intended to hurt the girl’s feelings, although she acknowledges that people would be willing to write such things obscene online because they don’t know the girl personally and would be “less afraid to voice out their opinions without really getting hurt by it.”


Evidently, the element of the impersonal is becoming an increasingly dangerous tool in the online world, especially when it allows people to say things without quite receiving the aftershock of social judgment.

SELFIE GENERATION. The generation of teens and young adults today live in an increasingly interconnected world. Ironically, some argue this has given birth to an increasingly narcissistic and individualistic society. Graphic by Raffy de Guzman/Rappler 

‘Selfie’ media


Additionally, social networking sites have become infamous for being hubs of egotism and self-promotion. As a result of the potential of hundreds of viewers, the Internet has become the perfect means for advertising ourselves to those around us. Its no wonder we’ve become known as the ‘selfie-generation.’


A user of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr, Minah Kausar has noticed the growing narcissism that has taken over the Internet. Minah recounts an incident when her friends on Facebook reacted enthusiastically when two boys posted a status saying they would raid the school at night.


Yet, when the boys subsequently posted a photo of them drawing inappropriate things on the school logo and defacing the building, their friends responded with shock, telling them they didn’t approve of the pranks and that “this wasn’t what was supposed to happen.” While the boys expected praise and glory for their rebellious efforts online, they were greeted by bewilderment and concern.


Grey lines


So, in effect, yes. There are things that us teenagers post on the Internet that go viral and may be slightly discriminate, or profane, or harsh—but there is, most evidently, a line to be crossed in the sect of social networking, and it is this marker which divides the mildly tolerably from the undeniably offensive posts.


Although teenagers have a personal understanding about what should and shouldn’t be posted online, as we continue to explore social networking sites, most of these opinions are far from being echoed by a majority.


But perhaps that’s not the worst thing that could happen.


These are delicate steps we are taking, but as long as we have moral consciences in one form or another, we’ll do what humans have always done—we’ll make the rules along as we go. Maybe one day we’ll be taught the limitations of social networking, but it’s safe to say, we won’t be expecting a manual on social network etiquette any time soon.  –

Andrea Ayala, 17 years old, is a 4th year high school student at the International School of Manila. She is enthusiastic about writing and is the managing editor of her school magazine.

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