Tips for Protecting Your Personal Information on Facebook

Facebook World Wide Web KeysThe use of social networking sites like Facebook has exploded in recent years.  Now, everyone and their second cousin has an online profile that they update constantly, which makes online safety an issue of the utmost importance.  Maybe you’re a parent or grandparent who doesn’t have or want to bother with Facebook, but it’s wise to closely monitor your child’s online activity.  Decide based on their maturity what is an appropriate age to have a social networking account (or other online accounts like e-mail), and set parameters to keep them safe from online predators or bullies.  Ensure that they treat others respectfully in any online forum.  In light of the recent kidnapping story and acts of public violence, it has never been more imperative to be vigilant in guarding our children, particularly as the Internet provides a whole new portal of constant access for friends or more nefarious characters.

Here are some tips for protecting yourself or your children’s personal information and emotional well-being in an online setting.

1) Ladies, don’t keep your maiden name posted because “What’s your mother’s maiden name?” is still used as a security question to verify identity over-the-phone or online.  If you feel you need to have this posted so your old high school friends can find you, make sure sensitive accounts use different security questions.  This can also apply to other information you may post, such as the name of your elementary or high school, pet names, and favorite shows.  Online prowlers could skim your basic information, networks, and interests to gather that data and try to steal your identity.

2) Do not post updates of where you are on a daily basis, especially if it involves your children’s activities, such as daycare, school, sports practices, or hobby lessons.  The map feature can be a convenient way to share your travels or favorite restaurants, but it can also give people a sense of your schedule and where your children will be at certain times of the day.

3) Be careful about out-of-town and vacation updates.  Posts like “Packing up the family and leaving for 2 weeks in Florida! Woohoo!” may brag about your exciting vacation, but can also alert potential intruders to the fact that, for the next two weeks, your house is empty and ready to be ransacked.  Save the bragging for after the vacation.

4) Do not post your phone number, e-mail address, or home address on your Facebook information page, even for friends.  If you lose your cellphone contacts, don’t make a public post asking your friends to leave their numbers in the comments section.  Send that kind of sensitive information in a private message to the intended recipient only.

5) Monitor your security settings, especially as Facebook keeps making changes to their interface, often giving more options on what you can keep private.  You can opt to make photos, albums, posts, and other activity visible to “only me,” “only friends,” or “friends of friends.”  Utilize the new “review” tool to accept or reject posts, photos, or notes in which friends tag you before they appear on your timeline.  Untag yourself from anything with which don’t feel comfortable, and don’t be afraid to politely let the person posting know if you want something removed.

6) Never accept friend requests from people you don’t know.  Even if you are familiar with someone as a friend-of-a-friend, it’s best not to accept anyone you haven’t met in person.  We warn children not to talk to strangers on the street; the same applies online.

7) Don’t post compromising photos of yourself, or anything you wouldn’t want a potential employer to see.  Set restrictions on posts that include things like drugs and alcohol (obviously there shouldn’t be anything illegal or underage), partial nudity (you may look great in that bikini you wore at the beach, but do you really want your employer to see those photos? or a prowler?), and other potentially awkward photos (it might have been funny to take a photo of a friend looking between his legs, but does he really want a photo in which he’s bending over online?).

8) Report online bullying, and deal with it accordingly.  Some people feel more anonymous online and will become bolder and reckless in what they write.  If you wouldn’t say it in person, don’t say it online.  Let your children know they need to behave appropriately and should inform you immediately if they feel they are being bullied.

A Final Word of Advice:
Don’t be afraid to monitor and perform random checks of your child’s Facebook or other social media accounts.  If you’re worried that your teenagers will complain that you’re invading their “privacy,” counter with the argument that anything posted on the web in technically public and permanent, despite security settings, sent out for anyone to see.  Until their minds have fully matured and they can make rational, sensible decisions, be a protective parent and take as active a role in their virtual life as you would in real, daily life.

 (Basis for WEEU Radio Broadcast 5/9/13)

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