Many people find that they are less inhibited when they are interacting online. You might say or do something online that you wouldn’t normally do in the non-virtual world. This false sense of security can lead to many problems such as losing touch with reality. It’s possible to become completely engrossed in a virtual world and lose track of time and what’s happening in the rest of your world. Escaping the stresses of every day life is necessary sometimes but, when it begins to interfere with your perception of reality, it can be dangerous.
Since the nature of online interactions doesn’t allow you to understand tone or see non-verbal cues, it can be easy to misinterpret another person’s meaning. In school we are taught to interact directly with other people. Yet, some people are self conscious about talking directly with others and find it easier to interact online. It’s good to be able to communicate effectively online, but not at the expense of losing interpersonal skills!
Think before you write!
Just because a profile asks for a piece of personal info doesn’t mean you must provide it! Do you really want your class schedule available to the whole campus? How about your cell phone number? Identity theft is a fast-growing crime. Be sure you aren’t placing yourself at risk for this crime by providing detailed personal information online.
Check privacy settings.
With many online communities you have the option to make parts of your profile accessible only to your friends, while leaving other parts public. The default setting is usually ALL PUBLIC.
You can be vague about your location!
Want to list where you live? How about just your city and state? Listing your room, apartment, or house number provides a specific address for someone to find you. This can leave you vulnerable to identity theft, a stalker, unwanted visitors, or unsolicited mail.
Be careful what you write.
Free speech doesn’t protect hate speech.
- Spend five minutes learning in and outs of any social networking site.
- Choose a strong password that is different from your usual passwords; change it often.
- Don't use your mother's maiden name or your birthplace for security questions.
- Use a false date of birth -- this information is critical to anybody that is intent on stealing your identity.
- Only add friends if they are people you know, and if you have any doubt check their identity.
- When posting pictures, take a careful look at them, see what is in the background.
- Be cautious about adding applications to your Facebook/MySpace or making purchases and using a credit card, if you do be cautious about providing username and passwords. Ask yourself, who am I giving this information to?
- Don't install applications from developers who you don't know and trust, don't open messages from people you don't know.
- Don't provide the following on social sites or through creating accounts online: other e-mail addresses, date of birth, full address, mother's maiden name, current phone number, AIM screen name.
- Disable options first, then open them one by one. Think about how you want to use the site.
- If you suspect that someone may have abused your profile or taken your information for identity theft, alert the three Federal Credit Bureaus. This is the same thing you should do if your credit cards, driver's license, etc. have been stolen or compromised. You should run a credit report periodically to check for any discrepancies.
It can be exciting to meet new people online, and while you can build real relationships with well-intentioned people, it’s always good to practice safety precautions such as the following:
- Choose a public place like a coffee shop for your first meeting.
- Set a time to meet (e.g., We’ll meet from 5-7 pm) so that your time together has a definite end point.
- Let someone know where you will be and make a plan about checking in with that person at an agreed upon time.
- Remember, people are not always as they appear! It may be a good idea to plan your first few meetings using the three steps listed above.
- Until you develop trust, take your time in giving out personal information. You can let someone know which part of town you live in without telling them the number and the street.
To read more about online safety click on the articles mentioned below:
- Maintaining an Online Profile - and Your Professionalism
- MySpace is Public Space When it Comes to Job Search: Entry Level Job Seekers - It's Time to Reconsider the Web
- Employers Look at Facebook, Too
- Protecting Your Online Reputation
- Staying Safe on Social Network Sites
- Working to Halt Online Abuse
- Computer Crime & Intellectual Property - United States Dept. of Justice