The Horror Stories are True! Protect Yourself on Social Networking Sites

Having a Facebook or MySpace page is pretty much a given if you are a young woman or man between the ages of 16-25. These days the question is, who doesn’t have one? But the more these social networks have become a part of our lives, the more comfortable we feel posting whatever we want, not thinking about who is actually seeing it. Whether we are posting pictures of ourselves completely wasted at a friends kegger, or just a few pictures from a nice family vacation, posting pictures or information about ourselves has become something we do without any second thoughts. Well, these days, profiles on social networks like Facebook have become completely open to all.

Two years ago, Facebook made it possible for any profile to be searched through its Public Search Engine, including engines such as Google and Yahoo. The only restriction on this would is if someone changes their privacy settings so they cannot be searched. But newcomers to the “Facebook world” may not even think about this, or even know how to change their privacy settings.

A few weeks ago, CNN.com put up a story about sexual predators and Internet thieves on Facebook. This surprised me, because I was always under the impression that Facebook was considered the “safer” one, compared to MySpace. This common belief is slowly beginning to change now with Facebook’s new policies on searching ability.

So not only should we all be protecting ourselves against people on the Internet that may pretend to be someone else, we need to remember that those horror stories we all hear, about people getting in trouble for what they put online, are sometimes very true. Many of those stories about students getting expelled from school because of something they posted online such as a threat or vulgar pictures, have actually been proven to be true. Also, the stories about a company who searched a potential employer online, and did not like what they saw on their Facebook profile and then refused to give them the open position. Yes, many of these stories are TRUE, so do not forget that!

The University of Texas in Austin has posted some really helpful tips on how to keep yourself safe from online predators, and also prevent yourself from getting into trouble or costing yourself a great position at a new job. Here is what they suggested:

1. Consider restricting access to your profile- On Facebook you can go into Settings at the top write of your homepage, and then Privacy Settings to set who can see your profile, pictures, wall, or search you.

2. Keep your private information private- This is pretty obvious, but maybe not to some. Never put your Social Security number, address, schedule, phone number or financial information on you profile.

3. Choose a screen name that is different from your real name- Make sure no one can locate you offline through this information.

4. Think twice before posting your photo- On Facebook, photos can be altered or shared with others without you even knowing. So be careful about what pictures you post. (If your Grandmother wouldn’t approve, don’t post it)

5. Don’t post information that makes you vulnerable to a physical attack- Never post on your profile or anyone else’s where you will be at a certain time.

6. Use your common sense-If someone you don’t know contacts you online, talk to the friends you have in common, and if you do meet with them, meet in a public place.

7. Trust your instincts- Stop talking to someone online if you feel uncomfortable and report any offensive behavior to the social networking Web site administrators.

8. Be suspicious- Don’t believe everything someone tells you. People can say anything they want or be anyone they want online, so always be cautious.

This guest blog was written by PRowl Public Relations firm staff member, Melissa Colelli. Follow her on Twitter: @m_colelli

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