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Discussion Topic #4: Know who your real friends are

Take a minute to think about the number of friends you have on your favorite social networking site. Would you say that, on average, you know these friends:

1) very well?
2) well?
3) somewhat?
4) not at all?

In the real world, we are generally selective about the company we keep and the personal information that we share with them. However, when using social networking sites, too many of us forget to think before we click.

Accepting a new friend means more than just a click of the mouse. If you haven’t set up different privacy settings for different lists of friends, you are giving that person access to all of your personal information.

Many of us have social media “friends” that we would more likely consider acquaintances in real life. Now, take a moment to think about the information that they can see about you. If you are revealing details about your life that could potentially be twisted or used against you – which could be details about a relationship, or even a simple expression of your feelings towards someone who turns out to be less of a friend than you thought – you really need to think about who you are allowing to view that information. For example, when you write something as simple as “off to a ski chalet for the weekend” as a status update, that may signal to a thief that there’s nobody at your home all weekend, making it an easy target.  This is an extreme case, but the same principle holds true for other, less extreme scenarios. Maybe you announce that you’re going somewhere, and someone you don’t want to see makes sure to bump into you there.  In the end, the more you share, the more information is out there for others to use – potentially in ways that you hadn’t thought of.

We aren’t encouraging you to avoid social networking sites. We do, however, want you to be aware of the potential risks when posting information, and encourage you to take a few precautions to fully benefit from the positive aspects of these sites. This may mean taking a second thought about the information that you post online. It may mean taking another look at your privacy settings, which may have changed since you last checked them. If you are very active on your social media pages, maybe you should only let your real-life friends see your page, limit what some friends can see within your page, or limit what you post.

Go over your friend list frequently, and restrict access to friends who are no longer in your ‘inner circle.’ While you can always delete friends, it’s best to avoid going through that trouble in the first place by being careful when accepting a new friend request. Consider only giving your real friends access to content that you consider private – someone you don’t really know doesn’t need that information anyway!

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