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The Second Meaning of ‘tbh’

Getty Images
Getty Images

Day one of Facebook Live, Facebook’s new live-streaming feature, was a roller coaster of … actually, it was pretty whatever. A lot of people smoking pot, or being bored, or staring at their laptop cameras while using their phones. Or all three. There were some cute animals, and I even watched a LASIK surgery. Lots of makeup tutorials.

And then there were a ton of streams titled “tbh and rate.”

If you, like me, are sort of “old” by internet standards but know more about the web than the average person does (or, arguably, should), then you’re likely familiar with “tbh,” or “to be honest.” But “tbh and rate,” used largely by teen internet, has its own definition. If you are very hip, then please spare me the eye roll and just skip to another section of this newsletter. Otherwise, join me on a quick journey into teen internet etymology!

“Tbh and rate” is a request to be rated on a scale, usually of 1-10, mostly about how good or bad looking you are, or just how cool you are. Sometimes it’s shortened to “tbh” or “tbh rate, date” or “tbh rate, date, pass” — you get the idea. On Facebook Live, teens mostly stare at the camera or engage in mundane activities while waiting for and responding to ratings.

Tbh lives outside of Facebook Live as well. On Instagram and Twitter, popular hashtags include #tbh4tbh (similar to #like4like), #tbhrate, #tbhpics, #tbhratedate, and #tbhandrate. The list goes on and on and on, but the tags convey the same thing: Please look at this live stream, video, or photo of me and tell me what you think.

A ratings guide created and used almost exclusively by teens (there are a few versions of it) took over Instagram last year. There are even a few apps designed to ask for ratings, or “tbh’s.” A popular App Store search is “tbh maker,” which yields a slew of text overlay apps, and a quick Instagram search shows how those are used to create fancy tbh photos.

The concept of asking the internet for approval has been around as long as the internet has, and it’s gotten a nice boost from the social web. Now, Facebook Live represents a chance to see that phenomenon happen in real time.

This piece originally appeared in the April 11, 2016, edition of the Ringer newsletter.