Social networking (safely) – National Consumers League

By Jacob Markey, LifeSmarts Summer 2010 intern

When I was in high school, MySpace was the big social networking craze; then Facebook entered the scene and exploded in popularity. While many other sites are available today, Facebook is the dominant site of choice. With hundreds of millions of users, it now seems as if everyone from kids in middle school to my parents’ friends have a Facebook account! Since the December LifeSmarts topic area focuses on issues relating to Technology, a discussion about social networking and online safety tips is timely.

Many people might see little reason to fear using social networking sites. After all, they are a great way to communicate with your friends, post pictures, and play games. But there is much to be aware of when using these Web sites. Your privacy and security may be at stake if you are careless and don’t take the proper steps to ensure that people can’t obtain information that could be used to hurt you. In addition, what you post on these sites could get you into a lot of trouble with friends, family, coworkers, and others (including future potential employers).

With these concerns in mind, here are some quick, but vitally important, tips people should follow to stay safe online:

  • Do not release or post personal information like your complete birth date, address, or phone number. Some people may use your information for shady activities like identify theft.
  • Do not download something from a suspicious link. It could contain a virus, spyware, or other harmful information that could damage your computer and cost a lot of money to clean up or repair.
  • Be careful about what you post and say online. An increasing number of employers are checking what their employees post on Facebook and when researching applicants to their companies. Inappropriate content, like badmouthing an employer or posting racy photos, could cost you a job!

Teens especially should be mindful to maintain control over their online profiles. They should have their profile on high privacy settings to make sure that strangers are not able to see their personal information online. In addition, they must be extra aware of people who could take advantage of them online, and should not meet a stranger who they befriend online. People may not be who they say they are and may be looking for trouble, as in this example of an assault that happened after meeting through a social networking site.

Social networking has a number of amazing benefits, and you shouldn’t have to give them up. But be sure to be careful about the actions you take online, and follow these tips to avoid problems online.