The very nature of social media encourages users to provide a certain amount of personal information. But when deciding how much information to reveal, people may not exercise the same amount of caution using social media as they would when meeting someone in person. This happens because:
- the Internet provides a sense of anonymity;
- the lack of physical interaction provides a false sense of security; and
- they tailor the information for their friends to read, forgetting that others may see it.
The major drawback to social networking is that some users are simply sharing too much information. People can lose their jobs or a friendship over leaking information on social networks. Even if a user of a social site has her privacy settings on the highest level, their information can still be passed on by someone on their friends list. It doesn’t take much for an angry follower to copy and paste a status or download a picture if they are looking for revenge.
For parents, kids need to understand that if they reveal too much about their personal lives, it could lead to problems—like susceptibility to cyber bullies, online predators, invasion of privacy, and identity theft. These problems are not due to social networking, as they have been around since the advent of email and chat. But with social networking, the volume of content has grown and become much more personal and is easily seen by anyone. Set some limits and make a few rules for your children with regard to their online behavior, especially on social networking sites.
- Limit the amount of time your kids are allowed to spend on the Internet
- Discuss what is and is not appropriate to share online and remind your child that nothing is secret in cyberspace
- Advise your children to beware of people they don’t know who want to join their network—these “friends” may be predators or cyber bullies who want to do them harm.
- Teach them the risks and dangers of sharing passwords, phone numbers, addresses, and social security numbers and other personal information—even with their best friends
- Encourage them not to use their full name, city, school, and age in text or images, so this information cannot be used to locate them offline
- Have them inform you if they notice anything odd or unusual, such as messages from “friends” that seem out of character or photos that your children never posted
- Teach your children to be wary of messages—especially solicitations or offers with links to websites—that they receive from others in their network, as the messages may be coming from a con artist who has commandeered a friend’s profile and is distributing a phishing scam
- Tell your kids that they cannot meet face to face with individuals they’ve met online
- Tell your kids to trust their gut if they have suspicions—if they ever feel uncomfortable or threatened, encourage them to tell you
- Finally, and most importantly, require that you are able to monitor their social networking in order for them to have it.
As an employee, here are a few simple rules related to commenting on social media regarding your workplace:
- Never post anything negative regarding a co-worker, your boss or the company you work for.
- Never share any information related to business matters – leave that for the company’s social media site.
- Only post your own individual accomplishments (promotions, bonuses, etc.), and only if approved by your employer. Even if approved by your employer, keep in mind the impact it may have on co-workers and then decide if best to share.
It seems that this is the age of instant sharing of personal information. While some may claim it’s a great way to stay connected, what are the dangers of sharing online to mere acquaintances (or even co-workers or strangers) things that you normally would only whisper to close friends? Because we are less likely to “edit” our thoughts when communicating via social media, we are likely to say something that was simply a fleeting thought and not something we really would want “out in the world.” This, of course, could come back to impact our job. For example, we make a negative comment about our boss or company we work for. Whereas you may think you are simply “thinking out loud” your employer may feel it is truly what you mean. This can also happen with strangers who may interpret your “flirty” comment as an invitation to pursue you.
For those reading posts about their “friends” wonderful lives – careers, successful kids, great trips – is it possible that the more time we spend scouring our ‘friends’ walls and photo albums, that we may become discontented with our own lives? How can this impact our emotional health? If we feel we are not “keeping up” with others we may feel disappointed in our lives. That being said, in general, if individuals are looking outside of themselves to determine personal or professional success, they probably are easily influenced by any type of feedback.
Social media only has the power to influence you if you give it that power. Individuals who share too much information should expect that not all others will use the information in the same way they intended.
Parents should discuss with their children what they want to share with others via social media and get their feedback. A good rule is to only post something that shows an accomplishment of your children, is not designed to give you as a parent the attention, and has very limited identifiable information. Certain posts, if embarrassing or that may seem no big deal now (“Hey, Sam got drunk for the first time last night – look at this picture”), could impact future educational or employment decisions. Employers and colleges in the future will only continue to increase how much they use someone’s social media history for making hiring and acceptance decisions.