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Social Networking Safety Tips for Parents and Students


Social networking websites such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter offer an interactive, user-submitted network of friends, personal profiles, blogs, groups, photos, music and videos. Social networking sites also often feature internal search engines and internal e-mail systems.  These sites have become an increasingly influential part of contemporary popular culture.

What is Facebook?

Facebook is a free website where users are given their own page to post information, news, pictures and videos about themselves. When they become someone’s Facebook “friend,” that person can see their page and communicate with them. It’s a great way to find friends you’ve lost track of and keep up with what your circle of friends is doing. It’s also the primary way that many people are sharing photos and videos, because you can “tag” those videos with your friends’ names and they’ll show up on their pages too.

Why should parents care what their kids are doing online?

  • Safety: You want to make sure your kids aren’t communicating with someone who intends to harm them.
  • Bullying: Whether it’s nasty messages or groups dedicated to hating a person, the internet opens up whole new realms of bullying possibilities. It’s also not always kid vs. kid; sometimes, kids are saying inappropriate things about their teachers.
  • Privacy: Sometimes people forget that the internet is a public forum, and somehow information that they consider private is actually public.
  • Mature themes: We all draw the line somewhere, and you want to make sure your online rules are consistent with your offline ones.
  • Ads: Even innocent internet pages might be accompanied by racy ads.
  • Time usage: It’s addictive, and can waste a lot of time.
  • Identity theft: Put the pieces together and someone can even open a credit card in your child’s name.
  • Self-branding: Is your child’s online image what he wants his community, potential employers and colleges to see? Even if it’s private, there are colleges and employers that are asking for access to pages.

What’s the difference between MySpace and Facebook?

  • Real names vs. pseudonyms:
    Here’s a quote from a social networking study:
    “Nearly all of Facebook’s 70 million members use their real names, while less than half of MySpace’s 110 million members use theirs.”
    I’m not surprised. I saw lots of nicknames and pseudonyms on MySpace, but the guidelines and the culture of Facebook really encourage people to use their real names, and not hide behind an anonymous facade. This results in more honest dialogue and discussion, and less inappropriate behavior than on MySpace. After all, if you’re yourself, you’ll have to answer to what you post when you see your Facebook friends in real life.
  • Privacy:
    Facebook also has extensive, customizable privacy controls. Last time I checked, your only options on MySpace were either a private or a public page. On Facebook, one can choose to only show photos to friends, or friends of friends, or one’s network, or everyone. Same thing goes for videos, groups joined., etc.
  • Ads:
    MySpace puts any ad, anywhere. A high school church youth group page might have a “Want to have an affair?” ad above it. At least at the moment, Facebook ads are more targeted, and I don’t see that happening. Middle-aged women are asked if they need a chiropractor or want to buy shoes, and their husbands are asked about rock ‘n roll fantasy camps.
  • Constantly improving:
    Facebook seems to improve at a quicker pace than MySpace, which makes it safer and more fun to use.
  • Cleaner interface:
    MySpace pages allowed so much customization that they were often cluttered, unreadable and loud. Think yellow writing on a black background with repeating sports logos and heavy metal music playing. On the converse, all Facebook pages have a grid pattern and a white background. They’re much more tasteful, and much easier to read.

Safety Tips:

  • Only let people be friends if you know them in person
  • Revise & frequently review your privacy settings. Click here to see how.
  • Use a different password for every site. Use a formula so you don’t always need to write them down.
  • Post as few identifying facts, such as your address and the city and date of your birth, as possible
  • Don’t assume you have privacy
  • Make sure no one’s set up a fake page for you
  • Don’t visit porn sites or sites selling questionable wares. Besides that they’re inappropriate, they often leave spyware or viruses on your computer.
  • Don’t share your password with anyone except your parents
  • See what others have to say about an application before you add it.
  • Don’t add too many applications
  • Don’t add applications that ask for a password
  • Don’t join inappropriate groups
  • Don’t post pictures, videos or other information about other people unless they approve
  • Once you’re logged in, don’t log in again
  • Make sure you have a computer operating system, firewall and anti-virus program that update automatically
  • Back up your computer regularly
  • Block and report anyone that sends you unwanted or inappropriate communications

Steps parents should take to make sure their kids are safe on Facebook and other websites:

  • “Children under 13 years old are not permitted access to Facebook. In addition, parents of children 13 years and older should consider whether their child should be supervised during the child’s use of the Facebook site.” (Source: Facebook)
  • Keep internet-connected computers in plain view
  • Join Facebook before your kid does (if possible)
  • Add friends, applications, groups, photos, etc. to your own page so that you know how it all works
  • Be your kid’s “friend” in full profile!
  • Be your kid’s friend’s “friend” (if possible)
  • Don’t stalk or embarrass your child. If you send him a message, it’s private. If you post something on his Wall, it’s public, and all his friends can see it.
  • Get your child’s username and password. If your child starts exhibiting strange or self-destructive behavior, you’ll probably want to see what’s going on online. Otherwise, you’ll probably never need this. But have it just in case.
  • Check your child’s profile regularly
  • Challenge them to tell you something about their friends
  • Check your child’s privacy settings with them
  • Share safety tips with them
  • Don’t assume Facebook or other parents will monitor your child’s safety. That’s up to you and your child.
  • Set limits on time and access
  • Balance trust & monitoring – trust your intuition.