What Does 'TBH' Mean?

TBH, it can be complimentary or critical

Woman typing on her laptop.
Oli Kellett/Iconica/Getty Images

The internet is filled with acronyms – so many that it's hard to keep up, so you may be curious when you see TBH in a message, either to you or one of your children. Here's what you need to know.

To Be Honest

TBH started out as the acronym for "to be honest." It was originally used (and still is by some) when someone is trying to be frank while discussing a topic that is uncomfortable or controversial. For example:

  • User 1: How can we possibly take in all these refugees? Our city can barely take care of its population now.
  • User 2: TBH, refugees would be good for our community. We could use more workers, and we need to get ourselves out of bronze age thinking.

Somewhere along the line, TBH was adopted by teens, predominantly teens on Instagram and Tumblr, where it was used to attract attention. It took on the complimentary meaning of TBH, and the acronym itself became a positive comment. In particular, it was used to solicit likes on Instagram, such as when used in a post that says "like for a tbh," or replies, such as "Reply to my picture for a tbh."

As a result, depending on context, TBH can be critical or complimentary. When it is used to comment on another person's physical appearance sarcastically, it is harmful. When someone posts a photo and receives a "TBH, this is a great pic of you!" the intent in complimentary.

A mini-movement built up around TBH that encouraged teens to express their honest feelings about a person or idea, but like many other well-intentioned ideas, this one was co-opted and used to bully or vent online by some people. Eventually, the term fell out of popularity. The TBH blog is no more. For a while, there was a TBH app, but it was acquired by Facebook in 2017. The TBH app was shut down, and Facebook deleted all the user data.

Similar Internet Acronyms

Perhaps because of the increased awareness of online bullying, TBH has fallen out of the top 50 trending internet slang terms as of mid-2018. However, there are plenty of "honest" acronyms to pick from including:

  • TBTH: To Be Totally Honest
  • TBCH: To Be Completely Honest
  • MHO: My Honest Opinion
  • JBH: Just Being Honest
  • 2BH: To Be Honest
  • IIH: If I'm Honest
  • IMAHO: In My Absolutely Honest Opinion

Parents Be Aware

Internet acronyms are part of the online experience, and your children probably know more of them than you do. However, they may not understand that some acronyms are hurtful. What can parents do? Remind your kids that words can hurt. Just because they have the tech skills to communicate online doesn't mean they have the maturity to handle every situation they encounter. When they are old enough, explain the concept of cyberbullying. For young children, it makes sense to monitor their communications. If you see any texts that are suggestive or bullying, discuss the harmful nature honestly with your child.