Avoid Potential Status Update Pitfalls

Status updates are one of the most intriguing parts of Facebook. Since updating the Facebook status is the first thing many people do when they have a second on their computer or mobile device, it is the first thing many people look at when they want to see what is happening with their friends. The convenience of this system for personal updates is excellent, but as with most aspects of social networks, there is reason to proceed with caution. Here are a few rules for both you and your teen to keep in mind when updating your Facebook status with your latest exploits:

  1. Remember who can see your page. Before clicking the “share” button on your latest status message, think about how people from various groups in your life would view your status message. The various groups of people in your life–extended family, co-workers, close friends–will likely all have differing perspectives on things. For example, something that might be hilarious to one group may incredibly offensive to another. While you may have specific people in mind when posting a status update, always remember that Facebook will not automatically know which people probably shouldn’t see what you’re posting.
  2. Nothing on Facebook is 100% guaranteed private. Tweaking your privacy settings so that only friends can see your status updates is a great step to being safe online, but it is not airtight. This is because if your friends can see your status updates on their screen, there is no way for you to control who else is viewing them. For example, their friends could be sitting next to them while they view your profile, or they could accidentally leave their Facebook logged in after they leave a computer lab or electronics store.  There are many opportunities for the content of your Facebook page to be seen by someone else besides your Facebook friends.
  3. Put thought into your status updates. Don’t just update your status with the first thought that comes to your mind. There have been many cases where people posted information that is seemingly harmless, but affected them in a very harsh way. For example, there have been cases of people having their houses robbed while away on vacation, because they updated Facebook with their plans, allowing burglars to take advantage of the opportunity. Many problems can be avoided just by pausing for a few seconds to think about what you want to broadcast to the world.

A great rule of thumb is to only share things on Facebook that you would be okay with virtually anyone seeing. This way, there is no possibility of being embarrassed, have your reputation damaged, or come into harms way over a string of words about how you felt at one point in time.  These tips are especially important to share with your child, as many teens feel that Facebook is just another place where they hang out with their friends. The good thing is, a little bit of knowledge about the reality of Facebook’s open nature can go a long way. Outside of a little thought, there is not much stopping your teen, or even you, from avoiding pitfalls caused by status updates.

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Teaching Your Teen to be Smart About Friending on Facebook

Something parents can sometimes find astounding is the amount of Facebook friends their teen has. According to Facebook, the average user has 130 friends on their site. When people look at their list of friends on Facebook, many find that the list is not only made up of close friends that they talk to on a regular basis, but also includes family members, coworkers, and even acquaintances. While it is fun to be able to share what is happening in life with so many people and have insight into their lives you wouldn’t have otherwise, there is reason to be wary of rampant and indiscriminate friending.

One reason that many parents are scared of is their kids meeting strangers they met on social networks in real life. Mary Kay Hoal writes in the Yoursphere blog that “14% of children 9 – 14 years old, and 12% of high school students 15 – 18 years old purposefully chose to meet with a stranger (in real life) they had chatted with online according to research published in the July issue of the American Journal of Nursing.” An easy way for parents to help prevent this is to just make a rule for their kids that they cannot friend strangers on Facebook. This simple social networking rule could help to stop any potential problems before they happen.

Another reason many people have heard about either in the media, or even from their own Facebook friends is oversharing; specifically, posting status updates or photos that are okay for some people to read but not others. To teach your teen positive social networking habits, it is good to encourage them to only post things on Facebook that they would be okay with anyone seeing, ranging from close friends to their grandmother to people working in college admissions. But maybe your teen is concerned about privacy (excellent!) and wants to put acquaintances from class on a limited profile view, and only show their entire profile to very close friends and family. For this, there are lists.

Facebook lists allows you to put friends into groups that you can customize your privacy settings for, which can allow you to put some people on a limited profile view but not everyone. The first step to having some Facebook friends on a limited profile view is to create a list. To do this, click on “Edit Friends” from the “Account” tab pull down. Next, click on “+Create a List”. Then, name your list, and select Facebook friends to add to it. When you’re done adding friends, click “Create List”. Now, you can go to your privacy settings and specify which content you would like to block people on that list seeing. To do this, click on “Privacy Settings” from the ”Account” tab, then click on the “Customize Settings” button near the bottom center. Next, choose whatever type of content from your Facebook that you would like to block that list from seeing, and click the “Customize” option. Under “Hide this from”, type in the name of your list. In the future, when you want to add new Facebook friends to your limited profile view list, just go back to “Edit Friends” where you created the list. Then, go to your list which is located in the left column. From here, you can add or remove people from that list. I should mention that Facebook friends do not see that they are added to a list that limits what they view on your profile, so no hurt feelings among those casual acquaintances.

So, there is no need to worry about your teen friending people on Facebook, so long as they are smart about it. Your teen only friending people they have met in real life, and showing good judgment when it comes to who sees the entirety of their Facebook page can prevent many potential problems.

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With Facebook Photos, Use Privacy Settings and Good Judgement to Show the World Your Best Side

While photos are one of the most compelling parts of Facebook, they can also have the most reputation damaging potential. Many parents know well the damage a racy photo could do to their career, and how a photo their teen rashly uploads can go viral in their school and affect their chances of getting into a college. A picture is worth a thousand words; when it can be uploaded and tagged by anyone at any time to the largest social network in the world, it is easy to see the potential for catastrophic reputation damage. This lack of control over personal image is alarming, but there are things that can be done to keep problems to a minimum. Here are a few tips:

  • Only share photos with your friends. This way, even if someone does tag you in a photo that you don’t like, it will only be your friends that will see it before you un-tag yourself. Changing all your photos to “Friends Only” is easy. When you are logged into Facebook click on the “Account” tab, and then “Privacy Settings” on the pull down. You will see a list of privacy settings for different aspects of Facebook. Click on “Customize Settings”, which is colored blue and located under this list. In the section titled “Things others share”, click on the “Edit Settings” for “Photos and videos you’re tagged in”. It will then show you your current setting. Click on it, and choose “Friends Only”.
  • Specify which people see certain albums. Nowadays, both parents and teens are Facebook friends with many different people from their lives. For one reason or another, you may have a preference of who sees your photo albums, depending on the person. To make some photo albums invisible to various people and not others, go to your Facebook Privacy Settings and click on the blue “Customize settings” button. Go to the bottom of the “Things I share” section and click on “Edit privacy settings for existing photo albums and videos”. Here, you will see the photo albums you have uploaded to Facebook. Under each album, there is a button that shows what your current privacy settings are for each individual photo album. When you click it, it will give you a list of options for who sees that album. You can choose one of those, or click on “Customize” to get even more detailed. This will allow you to type in the name of specific people you want to see the album, or even specify people you do not want to see that album.
  • Turn off Facial Recognition. This is a feature Facebook automatically opted people in for, which caused a significant amount of controversy. What is does is use facial recognition technology to look at the photos your Facebook friends upload, and suggest they tag you in ones that Facebook thinks look like you. While it could prove helpful, it could also lead to people just clicking through and tagging you in pictures, and not thinking as much about whether or not you would appreciate being tagged in that particular photo. To disable this, just go to your privacy settings and click on “Customize Settings”. See the “Things others share” section and click “Edit Settings” for “Suggest photos of me to friends”. You will see a button that says “Enabled” on the right. Click it and choose “Disabled”. Even with the tagging suggestions disabled, are you still creeped out that Facebook has facial recognition information about you in their database? There is actually a way to request that they get rid of this information. Just go here in the Facebook help section, and click on “How can I remove the summary information stored about me for tag suggestions?”. You will see “contact us” highlighted in the answer. When you click on that, it will give you a pre-written message to send to Facebook; all you have to do is click “okay”.

When it comes to Facebook photos, the rule of thumb is to not post photos of yourself that you would not be okay with everyone, on Facebook or not, seeing. Taking advantage of the Facebook privacy settings can definitely help your chances of keeping reputation damaging photos out of the wrong people’s hands, but the only surefire way is to just keep your embarrassing or unflattering photos off Facebook. If you have Facebook friends that upload photos of you that you don’t like, just ask them politely to take the photos down. You could even explain to them why this is important to you, and maybe they will be more careful about their own Facebook photos. Always keep in mind, the social network is a tool built to share content about yourself with the world, not to hide it. It is up to you to make sure the world sees your best side.

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SB 242 Could Mean New Social Network Default Settings and Parent Demands

California State Senator Ellen Corbett has introduced a bill, SB 242, that would both change social network’s default privacy settings, and give parents the legal power to demand that sites take down content from their children’s social network account. Facebook isn’t specifically mentioned in the draft bill, but it is pretty safe to say that with over 500 million active users, it was definitely on the minds of those creating it.

One impact the bill would have is that default privacy settings would only show a user’s name and hometown. Contrast this with existing default privacy settings that allow everyone to see a user’s photos, personal information, and posts. The bill, if enacted into law, would mean users would have to make a conscious choice to be more open with their social networking posts, rather than making a conscious choice to be more private.

A controversial part of the bill is where it gives parents the legal right to demand that social networking sites take down postings from, or about, their child in a “timely manner”, which in this case, means 48 hours. The punishment for a social networking site like Facebook if they cannot or will not remove the requested posts within 2 days? A $10,000 fine for each violation. SB 242 could end up being very costly for social networks like Facebook, in terms of both fines, and staffing needed to handle the tidal wave of requests they are likely to get. As you can expect, Facebook is not a big fan of the proposed legislation.

It is great to see that there are people concerned about their children on Facebook. Parent’s concern for their children’s over-sharing, which could lead to reputation damage and potential dangers such as online predators, is definitely legitimate. But logistics and potential legal concerns of the venture aside, allowing parents to force social networks like Facebook to take down their children’s posts is not on its own a sustainable solution. Education, however, can successfully address these concerns rather than policing alone. If a kid makes a post on Facebook that isn’t wise or safe, and the parent makes Facebook take it down, then the kid just learns that their parents don’t like some of the posts they make. There needs to be some kind of communication between the parent and the child about why it is not a good idea to post certain things. The spirit of the proposed bill SB 242—being that parents are concerned about their children’s safety online, and want tools to assist them in helping their children—is right on track. Having kids know that their parents can remove postings they make within 48 hours of their demand to Facebook might not be the way to go about it though. If you only censor your children’s social networking posts, you will keep them safe for the immediate time being. If you teach them to use social networks responsibly, they will be able to stay smart and safe online for a lifetime.

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Is it Monitoring or Spying?

There are many parents out there that want to help their kids be smart and safe on Facebook, just like they would in all other aspects of their child’s life. If a parent to some extent keeps track of their children’s Facebook activity, would you consider that spying? We have found that answers to this question can vary depending on who is asked. If you ask us, we would say it depends on how you go about it.

First, let’s clarify the difference between monitoring and spying (yes, one does exist!). Spying is when someone is being watched, but does not know who is watching them, or even that they are being watched. Monitoring is when the person being watched knows they are being watched, and by whom.

An example of spying would be a strategy a New Jersey police chief has for parents wanting their kids to be smart and safe on Facebook. His advice is to hack their account, or steal their password with the help of keystroke-recording software. This will allow the parent to peruse their child’s Facebook account, assumingly without the kid’s knowledge, so that the parent can have a “gotcha” moment with the child afterwards.

A monitoring strategy always includes the child being aware that the parent will have insight into their Facebook activity beforehand. For example, Parental Guidance sends the child an invitation from the parent that is accepted before the parent can receive any notifications about their kid’s Facebook activity. Since the child knows that the parent will be seeing certain aspects of their Facebook activity, the chances are slim that there will be a “gotcha” moment. If there is some risky Facebook activity going on, it will provide an opportunity for a conversation between the parent and their kid about making better choices online that can result in a learning experience for the teen.

So which strategy should you choose to better the chances that your kid is smart and safe on Facebook? Again, answers to this question will vary. If you ask us, we would say it’s your call. As a parent, you can choose whichever strategy you want. You are the parent, after all. Whether it is monitoring or spying, what really matters is that you, as a parent, are taking an active role in helping your teen be smart and safe online one way or another.

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Oversharing: Not Worth the Trouble

One way to help communicate the importance of being smart and safe online to teens is to show real life examples of people not doing so, and the resulting consequences of their actions. Parents might be interested in knowing of a few examples of oversharing on Facebook that have happened recently that everyone can learn from. What is quite unexpected by most is that the examples are of two teachers.

If you were a teacher, would you tell your students they were future criminals or that they look funny? If you wouldn’t, you probably shouldn’t post it on Facebook either. Seems like common sense, but recently there were a few teachers acting as a prime example of what not to do when it comes to posting on Facebook.

One posting comes from a first grade teacher in Patterson, New Jersey that posted “I feel like a warden overseeing future criminals”. This lead to a significant number of parents who had read the post arriving at the school to pull their children from her class. The teacher was then suspended not for the Facebook post itself, but because it caused so much trouble for the school.

Another teacher took pictures of a 7-year-old girl and posted them to Facebook, making fun of the girl’s hairstyle. The girl was wearing a hairstyle she had seen in a magazine, which was braids with Jolly Ranchers tied to the ends. The caption posted by the teacher with the photo was “And y’all thought I was joking!” As you can expect, the mother of the girl did not find the situation as amusing as the teacher’s Facebook friends did.

There has of course been some debate as to whether or not people should face consequences for what they post on their personal Facebook page. Something that people can agree on though is that there is a large amount of potential anger and sadness that can be spared by just keeping some things to yourself or sharing them in a more private setting. I doubt the people mentioned feel that their controversial Facebook postings were well worth all the trouble they are dealing with now.

Facebook is a great way to stay connected with friends and give people some insight into your life. But when it comes to things such as predicting the future criminal records and mocking the not-so-mainstream fashion choices of others, it is best to keep it to yourself or stick to the old but good face-to-face conversation.

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Facebook Event? Watch Your Settings.

When you decide to have a party or get-together at your house, what is one of the first things you do? Get food and drinks? Clean up the house? For most teens, one of the first things is creating a Facebook event.

Facebook events are a great way to get your party organized. It leaves no doubt in people’s mind as to the purpose of the gathering, who is attending, and people’s excuse for not attending. Something that is not always as clear to kids is the privacy settings of Facebook events, and the consequences of not using them.

The settings for Facebook events are not by default the most private they could be. Not making them private could mean a few unexpected guests. For example, a girl recently planning to have her 16th birthday party at her house accidentally had 200,000 people saying they would be attending. The event even listed her home address and phone number, so people could look up where the event was or call her for details. Chances are you don’t want three or four football stadiums worth of people attending your party. To make sure only some close friends or family are RSVP’ing to your event, there are a few tips to be aware of to keep things from getting out of hand.

When creating an event on Facebook, the key to having your get-together stay private is the check box near the bottom that says “Anyone can view and RSVP (public event)”. Unchecking this box means random people cannot come across your event and say they are attending. If you want the people that you invite to be able to invite their friends as well, there is a check box that appears after unchecking the public event box that says, “Guests can invite Friends”. Allowing guests to invite friends can still allow the event to go viral, but it is probably unlikely that your friends would send out mass invites.

This simple step can save you huge headache, not to mention a call to the police requesting crowd control.


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