Social networking sites, such as Facebook, MySpace, LiveJournal, and Xanga, have been increasing in popularity. These sites enable people to post information about themselves and communicate with others around the world using blogs, chat rooms, forums, interest groups, email and instant messaging.
Like any publicly accessible site, however, you need to be cautious about what information you make available online. Your Facebook identity can follow you for years. What's cool and funny today may not be so humorous down the road when you are in grad school or job interviews.
Your Facebook identity is not as private as you might think. Imagine the photos and information you have posted on Facebook are on a huge billboard downtown. If you're uncomfortable with having the information there, then you should think twice before posting it in cyberspace.
Employers, college admissions personnel, police, stalkers, con artists, nosy neighbors--anyone can see what you post! University staff does not actively seek out violations on Facebook, but they will investigate if an abuse issue is brought to their attention. Don't disclose anything about yourself, your friends, or family members that you wouldn't want to be made public.
Facebook is not all bad, you just need to learn the basics of how to save face and stay safe online. Protect yourself by taking the following precautions:
|Keep in touch with old friends! Facebook and other similar sites provide an easy way for you to stay in contact with friends from home or previous schools you've attended. See photos of their new significant others and what they've been up to lately. Have a friend studying abroad halfway across the world? Avoid high phone bills and confusing international mailings by keeping in touch online.||Share your financial and other sensitive information. Never provide or post any financial information. Be cautious about posting information that could be used to identify you or locate you offline, such as your home address or place of employment.|
|Get involved with the campus community! See what student organizations are up to and get involved! Are you already a member of student clubs? Invite others online to join your organization or to come to upcoming events that your group is hosting.||Post inappropriate visual content. Posting explicit photos and videos can lead to damaged reputations and unwanted attention from individuals who may have bad intentions, putting you at risk. Even photos of your drinking escapades with friends or your fraternity/sorority parties can cause problems if underage drinking or hazing is suspected. Employers may be wary of hiring party-hardy college students and recent graduates.|
|Check the sites' privacy options. Some sites allow users to restrict access to certain people--take advantage of this. On the other hand, some sites may share your personal information such as email addresses and/or preferences with other companies, which may increase the amount of spam you receive. Before signing up or posting anything, make sure you understand how the site works and what privacy choices you may have.||Forget that information posted on the Internet can never be entirely erased. Even if you modify or delete information, old information can be cached on others' computers.|
|Practice good "netiquette." What you post about others is as important as what you post about yourself! You can be held legally accountable for defamation of character for misrepresenting others negatively online, so it's best avoided.||Befriend strangers online. Con artists are known to scan social networking sites to find potential victims for all sorts of scams. It's cool to be "popular" on Facebook--some people even compete to see who has more online friends. If you're one of these popular kids, beware of "friending" strangers online and don't send money or your personal information to people you have "met" online.|
|Report problems If you ever feel threatened or misrepresented by others, report the incident immediately. Most sites have places to report abuse, inappropriate content, and other problems. Your report may prevent other users from becoming victims of such abuse.||Believe everything you read online. People may post false or misleading information about anything, even their own identities. This is one of the simplest methods scammers and online predators use to lure people in. Try to verify the authenticity of any information before taking any action.|
Now that you've learned how to protect yourself on social networking sites, test your new-found skills with this OnGuard Online quiz!