By now you probably know that social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have become integral to the daily lives of millions of people around the world, people who use these services to keep family and friends updated, connect with colleagues and communities, and to simply have a forum to express themselves.
You’re probably also seen headlines like these:
- Students fear Facebook posts will hurt job prospects
- California Identity Thief Busted with 300K Victim Profiles
- Your private details on Facebook are at risk
- ‘Obama Dead’ Hoax Sweeps Twitter After Fox News Feed Hack
What many of us want to know is, how can we reap the benefits of social networking without becoming a news headline ourselves?
Tips for Using Social Networking Sites
The good news is that there are several steps you can take to make your social media activities work for you and not against you. Here are some tips from the US-CERT:
- Limit the amount of personal information you post - Do not post information that would make you vulnerable, such as your address or information about your schedule or routine. If your connections post information about you, make sure the combined information is not more than you would be comfortable with strangers knowing. Also be considerate when posting information, including photos, about your connections.
- Remember that the internet is a public resource - Only post information you are comfortable with anyone seeing. This includes information and photos in your profile and in blogs and other forums. Also, once you post information online, you can’t retract it. Even if you remove the information from a site, saved or cached versions may still exist on other people’s computers.
- Be wary of strangers - The internet makes it easy for people to misrepresent their identities and motives. Consider limiting the people who are allowed to contact you on these sites. If you interact with people you do not know, be cautious about the amount of information you reveal or agreeing to meet them in person.
- Be skeptical - Don’t believe everything you read online. People may post false or misleading information about various topics, including their own identities. This is not necessarily done with malicious intent; it could be unintentional, an exaggeration, or a joke. Take appropriate precautions, though, and try to verify the authenticity of any information before taking any action.
- Evaluate your settings - Take advantage of a site’s privacy settings. The default settings for some sites may allow anyone to see your profile, but you can customize your settings to restrict access to only certain people. There is still a risk that private information could be exposed despite these restrictions, so don’t post anything that you wouldn’t want the public to see. Sites may change their options periodically, so review your security and privacy settings regularly to make sure that your choices are still appropriate.
- Be wary of third-party applications - Third-party applications may provide entertainment or functionality, but use caution when deciding which applications to enable. Avoid applications that seem suspicious, and modify your settings to limit the amount of information the applications can access.
- Use strong passwords - Protect your account with passwords that cannot easily be guessed. If your password is compromised, someone else may be able to access your account and pretend to be you.
- Check privacy policies - Some sites may share information such as email addresses or user preferences with other companies. This may lead to an increase in spam. Also, try to locate the policy for handling referrals to make sure that you do not unintentionally sign your friends up for spam. Some sites will continue to send email messages to anyone you refer until they join.
- Keep software, particularly your web browser, up to date - Install software updates so that attackers cannot take advantage of known problems or vulnerabilities. Many operating systems offer automatic updates. If this option is available, you should enable it.
More Social Networking Tips
For even more tips on how to help keep your social networking experiences both safe and secure, have a look at these online resources:
- US-CERT: Socializing Securely: Using Social Networking Services
- INTERNET2: Social Networking Security
- StaySafeOnline: Safety Tips for Social Networking
- ZoneAlarm: Six Tips for Social Media Security