Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter have exploded in popularity. People love sharing their personal news and views about what’s going on in their lives.
But stop and think for a moment. This information—some of which is very personal—is going up on the Internet. Outside of your trusted circle of friends and relatives, who else is viewing what you post? Spam bots, vindictive acquaintances, and even criminals may take an interest, too.
With these caveats in mind, we’re here to present some helpful hints to keep your social networking a safer, more rewarding experience:
Read the social media site’s fine print - In the 21st century, information is the new currency. You wouldn’t just hand out your banking account information, so why would you give away your privacy rights on social networking sites? Pay particular attention to what you are agreeing to share when you sign up or log into your account.
Many sites push you to agree to terms that are best for them—not you. Take a moment to wade through any legalese. Some of it may exceed your personal comfort limit. Make sure your permission choices are right for you.
Keep your full name and address to yourself - According to a 2009 report by Legal & General, a UK financial services group, over one-third of social media site users have posted when they’re going to be away from their home*. If this sounds like an open invitation for criminals, you’re right. Avoid posting such private details.
This same advice also applies to posting your children or grandchildren’s full names. In a 2010 article, Consumer Reports reveals that 26% of social media users post sensitive information about their children, including photos and names**. Avoid being one of them. Everyone in your trusted circle should know the children’s names anyway, so the information is redundant.
And speaking of photos…
Think twice about posting revealing photos - Even if you don’t explicitly reveal a child’s name, you may be revealing too much in what appears to be a harmless photo.
Consider this scenario: You want to post a digital photo of your 15-year-old granddaughter in her new cheerleader uniform. In the photo, she’s standing in front of her school’s homecoming game. What’s wrong with this, you ask? If the photo contains the school’s name, either on uniforms or in the background, a stranger wouldn’t have too much trouble tracking down her location and identity. Consider blurring or cropping such revealing details, if you know how. If not, maybe that isn’t the best photo to share.
And what about that picture of your new expensive flat screen TV, or your family room full of gifts around the holidays? Advertising their whereabouts may needlessly paint a target on your house for criminals. When in doubt, just share your photos privately with a trusted few.
Finally, recognize that maintaining your privacy online isn’t easy - There are people out there who want—and will do just about anything—to get your private information. We know this statement may send a cold shiver down your back, but the only way to keep information completely private is to lock it away—whether it’s stored securely or just kept in your head.
Many employers now scan social media sites. If you’re posting views they wouldn’t appreciate—like talking about how much you hate your boss—then you might want to step away from the keyboard. Once information is out there, it’s like water: It finds a way to run its course toward freedom. Don’t let what you share today come back to haunt you tomorrow.
Social media sites can be a great way to stay connected to old friends and help you make new ones. Just keep your privacy shades drawn to the appropriate level.