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Safe social networking

Safe social networking

Uploading embarrassing photos or telling the world youve just walked into a lamppost may be harmless fun, but do you know who can see your personal profile, and who cant?

Social networking and websites that offer social interaction have gone from the new thing to the norm in just a few years. It seems that practically everyone has a profile on at least one social networking site, filled with photographs, biographical details like education or work history, likes and dislikes and status updates about what they're doing. But how safe is that information? And who are these people you call your 'Facebook friends'?

Why should I watch what I say?

These days the boundary between private lives and the public internet has blurred to the point that many people don't think twice about sharing with the world. From soul searching blog posts revealing intimate details, thoughts or feelings, to tagged photographs and status updates revelling in outrageous behaviour - there are no boundaries. But not everyone that uses services like Twitter or Facebook realises why online privacy is important, nor how to go about securing their personal details from prying eyes.

More than half a billion people have a Facebook account - that's about one in every 14 people on the planet, with Twitter, MySpace and LinkedIn also wildly popular. Chances are that users include your future boss, or university admissions tutor who often use social networks as virtual references, and if they can see your drunken party photos, or read about your debauched exploits online you have a serious privacy problem on your hands.

What trouble has social networking ever caused anyone?

We're not scaremongering - most of us will spend our lives happily updating our status and 'liking' photos without any trouble. But it's wise to be aware of some of the downsides of social networking.

Number one: saying nasty things about your workplace online (however deserving of scorn it is) can get you fired - there's even a word for it, dooced, thanks to blogger Heather Armstrong of www.dooce.com who got fired for doing exactly that. As did 16-year-old Lindsey, who couldn't keep her moans about her job to herself - even after friending her boss.

"Online posts, pictures or tweets can have serious consequences in the real world."

Then there's the possibility of being charged with terrorism offences. You think we're joking? Paul Chambers was joking too when he tweeted a supposed threat against Robin Hood Airport in Doncaster, where he was delayed. He was fined 2000.

Online posts, pictures or tweets can have serious consequences in the real world - and remember: the internet is forever. If you'd rather something wasn't seen by anyone - now or when you're older/wiser/less amused by whatever it is - don't put it on the internet. These things have a habit of coming back to haunt you (as many celebrities find out to their cost).

What if I am being cyber bullied?

Cyber bullies use tactics like setting up fake profiles in someone else's name to harass or humiliate their targets. Many social networks have a 'real name' policy, so a profile set up in someone else's name could be deleted. If you're on the receiving end of unwelcome social networking, use the block feature to prevent them from contacting you, and always use the flag or report button and ensure that the site is aware of the problem - it should take it from there and see that bullies get their just deserts.

Does the world need to know where I am?

Another increasingly common feature of social networking is geolocation. Using your phone's fancy GPS satellite tracking system to pinpoint where you are, services like Foursquare, Google Latitude and Facebook Places allow you to 'check in' to your location - or even to just select it from a list. So, by checking in to a bar friends nearby might notice and come and join you, but if you're in the bar, where aren't you? At home. And this is why Please Rob Me was set up as a tongue-in-cheek remark at how geolocation can reveal too much. You leave the light on when you go out, why then tell the internet you're not home?

What can I do to keep my online life private?

This is getting increasingly tricky thanks to that fact some social networks (naming no names) change their privacy settings every five seconds and don't tell us. Often these changes will include new settings that reveal more of your profile to the world by default than you may have wanted. It's totally up to you to explore the privacy settings, work out what they do, and if you hear or read about changes, find out what is going on or examine your settings to see what's new.

It's also a good idea to think about whom you're 'friending'. If you don't want them to be able to see what you're posting, or you're not friends in real life, then there's no reason to be friends on Facebook. It is not, after all, a competition.

Updated: 06/09/2012

Mike Parker


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