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Facebook, Myspace, Linkedin, Twitter, Instagram …… It seems there is a new social media site every time we log on to our computers. With the differing sites comes a confusion over security and privacy settings. So many of us get caught up with sharing of information on social media including photos, locations and events that we forget that every time we do this we are leaving a trail of personal information. It is probably not practical to advise people to avoid using social media, and in reality most people wouldn’t want to. It therefore becomes a matter of arming yourself with as much information as possible so you can enjoy social media responsibly and with confidence.
Begin at the start. When setting up your profile do not include too much information. Some social media sites allow you to include an infinite amount of information including date of birth, place of birth, relationship status, schools attended, workplaces …. An endless profile of personal information. Perhaps at this point consider how much information you want to include.
It’s a good idea not to just select default privacy settings. Go into the privacy settings and select the people you want to view your personal information. For example Facebook allows you to select an option that restricts viewing of your posts to friends or to friends of friends. Say for example you only ever accepted friend requests from people you were actually friends with, then in theory only friends would ever see the information you post provided you had selected the option for friends only to view.
If we use Facebook again as an example, you can request friends or accept friend requests. Perhaps a bit obvious, but a good rule to follow is only accept a friend request from someone you know. If you get sent a second friend request from someone who you are already friends with don’t accept until you have clarified with your friend that they are in control of their account. You also have the ability to block people. Report suspicious or offensive behavior on all social media channels and block unsuitable people.
Your posts tell the world a lot about you. For example a picture in front of your street sign tells people where you live. A previous photo taken several months ago which you totally forgot you posted was a picture of your house with your street number in clear view. A subsequent post saying “looking forward to a week in Bali” just told everyone you are heading away and your house will be vacant for a week. Resist the temptation to overshare on Facebook. A test that I’ve heard many people say they use is the “front page” test. If you wouldn’t put it on the front page of a newspaper then don’t put it on social media because the reality is once it is published you can’t take it back.
Have someone who is not already friends with you on social media search for you. Find out what they can see. This is what the general public will see. Make sure you are happy with the information that anyone can see about you.
I’m sure it’s the same question parents the world over are being asked “When can I have a Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat etc account?”. Most sites restrict children under the age of 13 due to privacy laws. A common question parents ask is, “How will I know when my child is ready?” With a social media account comes a whole lot of responsibility including sticking to the rules we’ve set out above. Whilst a parent is normally the best judge of their child’s readiness, it might help to consider if your child has a good understanding of privacy and responsibility generally. If your child does use a social media account once they have reached the age required by that particular medium, then the same rules apply. Use privacy settings when setting up accounts, only friend real known friends, think before posting (would I put this on the front page of a newspaper or how would I feel if my school teacher saw it?), never share private information and always respect others.
This reminds us the internet has a way of always keeping the information we give it. Consider if you’d like future partners, prospective employers or relatives to see a certain photo or post. If not don’t post it.
Not everyone feels the same way you do about social media. Some people love it, others not quite as much. You may be happy to post photos of yourself, your friendship circle and your children. But it is worth remembering that not everyone wants either their children or themselves to appear on social media. It is a good idea if you are going to post a picture that has someone else in it to ask if they mind you posting or tagging them. This especially counts if you are wanting to post or tag a picture of someone’s child. Likewise if you are a parent of a child and don’t wish your child to have any images posted on social media then be clear with your friends so they know this. This is also true of revealing information about people such as locations they might be visiting, schools they attend or workplaces they belong to.
A good rule of thumb, if in doubt then don’t post it.