How Can I Be Safer When Using Social Networks?

Social networking sites provide a variety of tools to help you manage your privacy, your interactions, and your content. Leveraging these tools is a critical first step in having a safer online experience, but these tools alone will not keep you safer. Here are other questions to consider before choosing which social site you want to use, and what information you want to share with whom.

How viewable do you want your profile and pages to be?

The more personally identifying the information the more selective you may want to be about whom sees it. Additionally, consider how others may view or judge your information. For example, could the information be detrimental to you in some way in the future, and are you willing to take that chance?

Information that can be detrimental to you when being evaluated for a job, insurance, loans etc. include exposing your political views or sexual orientation; sharing information about illnesses you have (like being on a walk for breast cancer survivors, or being on a soccer team for diabetics); using profanity or poor grammar; talking about clubbing and drinking a lot, complaining about your work environment (or past environment), sharing photos where questionable judgment is shown; exposing how many children you have - or if you are trying to have children; and so on.

Explore a social site before using it. Does it offer the level of control, protection, and overall experience that is right for you?

How exposed will you be? Some sites require public profiles; others set them public by default. Look for Settings or Options to understand and control who can see your profile or photos tagged with your name, how people can search for you, who can make comments, and how to block unpleasant people.

Who owns your content? Does the site’s terms of use claim ownership of your personal information, photos and content? Have they reserved the right to reuse or resell it, or use it to target ads to you? Will they take your profile and content down and delete any archived copies if you request this?

Is anyone monitoring the service? Look to see how well the service polices abusive interactions or inappropriate content and how to report these. If you can’t figure out how to get to a live human on the other end of your complaint, pick a different service.

Who are your ’friends’?

With friends it’s about quality, not quantity. You are picky about selecting friends among those you meet; use the same principle online. Check out their pages - do you have any common friends? Are they someone you’d hang out with? If a hiring manager looked at their page would it reflect badly on you?

Keep an eye on what others share about you. Whether they are sharing comments, photos or other information, ask your friends not to post information about you that you don’t want shared. Ask friends to remove information you don’t want disclosed.

Prune your friends’ lists. Friends change over time, colleagues leave, and interests change. Healthy networking hygiene dictates you periodically review who has access to your pages. This can become a critically important task if you have had a falling out with someone as cyberbullying and harassment are not just ’teen issues’.

Consider the short and long-term repercussions before you post

Privacy begins with you - if you truly don’t something shared by others, don’t share it. No matter how private you set your information or how carefully you select filter the people you share specific pieces of information with, keep in mind that if it’s online it may be exposed to others.

Leverage the tools some sites provide to help you create separate friend lists, then check these periodically as services sometimes change their settings without warning.

Identifying details that would enable someone to impersonate you, or locate you in person—your home address, phone and account numbers, birth date, photos, etc. to yourself - should be shared very sparingly.

Look twice at photos and video to consider everything shown in them. Should the images be cropped or altered to reduce exposure? Could the content be misinterpreted or damage your chances of landing a job, getting into the right school, being elected, getting a loan? If yes, don’t post.

Respect the privacy of others. Let your family and friends know the types of information you want kept private, and ask what information they don’t want shared. If you’ve already shared too much about them, delete the information from your pages and always ask for permission before posting anything they might not want shared.

Defend yourself and your computer

Safety precautions can only help protect your privacy when you’ve protected your computer, phone and other internet connected devices. It only takes minutes for an unprotected, internet connected computer to be infected with malicious software that will undo all your safety diligence.

Ensure your computers, browsers and services are up-to-date with all available patches, fixes, and upgrades.

Check your computer’s security software. These should be up-to-date with all available patches, fixes, and upgrades. If you don’t have security software installed - install it now.

Use strong passwords that are at least eight characters and include upper and lower case letters, numbers, and symbols. Don’t share your passwords or be tricked into giving them away. Most account takeovers are by people given the password by the owner.

Use extreme caution when clicking links to video clips and games, or downloading photos, songs, or other files from any source—even someone you trust. A virus could have sent the file, and the download could install destructive software or spyware.

Add-on applications can be fun - and infected, or deliberately designed to collect your information. While add-ons may let you enhance your personal pages, play games and more, stick to apps from reputable companies.

Report any negative incidents to the web service and, if needed, to law enforcement. No one has the right to ruin your online experience through threats, obscene or hateful material, inappropriate behavior, impersonation, scams or outright theft.

Provided by Linda Criddle, Founder of iLookBothWays.com