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How to Win at #tbt

‘Better Internetting’ is our etiquette column for a better (digital) you

It doesn’t matter how solid your follower-to-following ratio is or how many times this week someone’s slid into your DMs to say, “Good tweet!”: We all could be doing better on the internet. So before any of us sets another ‘thirst trap’ or workshops another high-concept Vine, let’s take a moment and try to be a little better. This is Better Internetting!

So it’s Thursday afternoon and you’re ready to contribute to the stream of people posting old photos of themselves in the spirit of #tbt (or Throwback Thursday, for the uninitiated). You haven’t decided if you’re gonna go with a baby picture, a snapshot from your teen years, or something with a little more pop culture currency, but the impulse is there.

Lucky for you, you happen to be fresh off a trip back home where you filled your phone with fire pics of yourself. Maybe you’re a demon like me and even have them organized in a little album called #tbt on your camera roll so you can more readily access them. Good for you.

Obviously the thesis of your social media account is, “I am hot and fun and live a fulfilling life that I share with people I care about.” But before you commit a photo—no matter its age—to the ‘net, there are some rules I think it’s time we talked about. I’m here to keep you from ruining a perfectly good throwback opportunity by acting like a narcissistic dweeb. It happens to the best of us.

You don’t have to make it about you

Plenty of occasions call for a #tbt — holidays, anniversaries, remembering Gwen Stefani’s braces. If it’s hot out and there’s an amazing photo of you at age eight in an American flag bathing suit, there’s no better reason to post it than a #tbt. But that doesn’t mean you need to shoehorn yourself into every single theme that arises. It’s tempting to let all those delicious throwback favs feed your ego they way they would with a standard selfie, but the #tbt has so much potential as a medium. Don’t squander it.

Let’s say you’re doing a Mother’s Day #tbt; maybe you’re not in it at all. Maybe it’s just a very flattering photo of your mother that you pair with a nice caption and that’s the end of it. And with that #tbt we learn that a) you love your mom, and b) you know how to let someone else shine for a minute. Because honestly, what is Mother’s Day if not the day you’re supposed to reflect on, “Oh damn, everything I have is because this one person allowed me to exist.”

Which isn’t to say that Mom-solo is the only route to take — you’re not a fucking saint. A Mother’s Day throwback could just as easily be a photo of you and your mom together, but in that case you need to make sure that the pic is actually about her. It’s fine for you to be in the frame or part of the scene, but she needs to be the focal point. She’s holding you and smiling to the camera and looking amazing, not partially obscured because you’re waving your arms in the foreground and stealing the show.

Keep it moving

If every #tbt you post is from the six month period in ’94 when you had an adorable haircut and were very into that one yellow raincoat, it’s gonna get stale after a while. Your cute shit is cute, we get it, but don’t be afraid to throw back to your less photogenic moments, too. I’d much rather see a fresh pic of your double-chinned sixth grade yearbook portrait with a fire caption than 75 borderline-identical preschool rain puddle moments. Get vulnerable, dog.

Make everyone’s hotness a priority

So you have a photo from that one party in high school where everyone looked like their peak teen selves. The brand names are popping off, the hair gel is on full-blast, and everything reeks of nascent sexuality. Congratulations, this is an amazing opportunity to self-deprecate and share a part of your past that might be illuminating. But before you pull the trigger on these, you need to make sure everyone looks as good as you do. You’re not the glam police, no one needs to be 100 percent on-point, it’s just that if you happen to look perfect in this throwback and everyone else is blinking, mid-sneeze, or holding an incriminating substance, that’s a selfish pic choice. Either zoom in enough that your buddy is spared, or pick a photo where everyone’s looking slightly better. Do the right thing.

Less can be more

I love encountering a curveball #tbt in my feed. That very chic-dressing mother of two was once a grade-A science geek. A rude coworker was once, in fact, a mom-hugging, turtleneck-wearing sweetieboy. But part of what makes the #tbt so powerful is that it doesn’t occur very frequently. You know how when you go to the dentist you lie and say you floss twice a day every day, but in actuality only a psycho would do that and you’re flossing as-needed? #Tbts are like that; a healthy part of your routine, not a compulsive ritual. Stunt as needed.

Christine Friar loves The Sims and lives in Brooklyn.

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