“Tbh,” the acronym which stands for “to be honest,” has taken on a different meaning since it was first adopted by teens.
The Washington Post recently profiled a 13-year-old girl and focused on her social media use. She explained that on Instagram, a “tbh” is used to say something nice about your friends.
“[This girl] gets so many likes on her pictures because she’s posted over nine pictures saying, ‘Like all my pictures for a tbh, comment when done,'” she told the Washington Post. “So everyone will like her pictures, and she’ll just give them a simple tbh.”
While “tbh” still means “to be honest” or sometimes “to be heard,” it’s no longer associated with an insult (“I’m just being honest!”), but with compliments. In the Washington Post example, the teen girl, after getting her likes, would then write a simple ‘tbh you’re pretty’ on commenters’ pictures.
It was still a little confusing, so we turned to today’s teens to break it down further for us. I asked a few Instagram-savvy high schoolers to explain to me (through text, where else?) what a tbh means to them.
Sammy, a high school freshman, tells Tech Insider that her friends will usually write “you’re nice” or “you’re funny” after tbh, and if they want to make a connection, sometimes they will toss in a “we should talk more.”
A tbh is almost like an Instagram currency — you can trade a tbh for a like on one of your photos.
“[You] post a picture saying something like ‘like for a tbh or comment for a tbh,'” Sammy says. After they get their like, comment, or follow, the teen will then go to give a tbh on a user’s last post or direct message them on the app, she explains.
There are myriad reasons why a teen might do this: they’re bored, hoping to connect with a crush, to get a confidence boost, or simply to accrue more likes and followers.
A tbh is also a way to talk to someone you normally wouldn’t talk to, Sammy explains to TI. Those people are usually friends of friends, or people teens may not have necessarily met in person, but are separated by only one or two degrees of friendship.
Kevin, also a freshman in high school, explains to TI that a tbh is “a way for people to let a certain person know how they feel about them, like if they want to get closer and talk to them.”
But even though tbh can mean “to be honest,” that doesn’t always mean these posts reveal the truth.
“I don’t think people tell the truth all the time, because no one would want to be mean or rude,” says Catherine, a 15-year-old. Sammy confirmed this, saying most people probably aren’t being completely honest. In the interest of not being mean, sometimes they will go for the obvious truths, like “saying that person is nice, or they are in some of the same classes,” says Catherine.
“I don’t lie,” Dan, another 15-year-old, says. “If someone likes [my Instagram post] who I don’t have anything nice to say to, I just don’t give them a tbh.”
So there you have it: “Tbh” is no longer a snarky remark or a signal that you’re about to seriously set the record straight. It’s a way to connect with others and drop a compliment while you’re at it.
At least if you’re a teen on Instagram.