• Prying Eyes: A Primer for Responsible Social Networking

    Read time (bolded) – 5 minutes

    Read time (comprehensive) – 8 minutes


    We’ve all heard the chatter: murmurs about a teenage girl losing her job because of a Facebook status update, or some guy calling in sick to work, only to have his (dated) fishing trip photos making the rounds on Flickr.

    As social network users, we have to be aware that someone is ALWAYS watching. Whether it is our friends, casual acquaintances, colleagues, or complete strangers, when content is published on a social network, someone will see it.

    As we’ve done previously, using real world analogies can help us understand just how online behavior can affect our lives.

    Around close friends, people we know on a personal level, we probably feel most comfortable. Maybe we can cut loose a little bit, say what’s really on our mind, maybe engage in some behavior that could be embarrassing if seen by the wrong eyes. Likewise, most of try to keep profanity under wraps in the workplace or don’t feel the need to share the weekend’s exploits with our least favorite supervisor.

    The same thing is true in the world of social networks. Just as we choose the appropriate time and place to vocalize certain thoughts or ideas (often based on setting or people in the room), we have to do the same online

    This kind of discretion on social networking sites is generally accomplished through a balance of privacy settings, as well as making careful choices about the people we connect with and the information we share. Participating in social networks without considering your online privacy is the equivalent of undressing with the curtains open, for all the world to see.

    While each social network has its own specific privacy settings, most have options to hide content from users you aren’t connected to, as well as options to hide content from the web at large, perhaps the most useful trick is to simply post and connect responsibly.

    If you think your boss won’t like what you have to say on Facebook, make your profile private and don’t accept his friend request. If you don’t want to block your grandmother, but you don’t want to offend her either, maybe it isn’t a good idea to post the photos from your trip to Vegas.

    It all boils down to deciding what you’re willing to share, and taking steps to not cross the line you’ve set. If you want to connect to hundreds or thousands of other users, you’ll have to be mindful of the information you are allowing that mass of users to see. This means everything from email addresses and phone numbers to work history and family photos. If you don’t want the information to be available, DON’T SHARE IT ON A SOCIAL NETWORK.

    As these types of websites gain even more massive popularity, the users have to treat them less like a free-for-all, and more like a real-life social setting, complete with all of its hang-ups and consequences.


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