Virtual Village: Networking? Do it Safely

Social media sites such as Facebook are very handy tools to keep in touch with relatives and old friends spread far across the globe. Yet, we do have to consider these sites in terms other than their convenience.

While there is an element of risk involved with them, a few practices can make your use of social media considerably safer.

The most important approach in an online environment is to do only what you would do in normal life. For some reason, people put facts and information on the web for all to see that they would never give to a stranger in a coffee shop.

Let’s look at this in practical terms.

One of the first steps you should take is to limit who can see your postings. In Facebook, this is done using the Privacy Settings.

You find these by clicking the down arrow in the upper right hand corner of the browser window located next to your name and the link to your home page. Privacy Settings is the second item on the menu that drops down.

The web page that opens will have an area where you can select your default posting setting. Ideally, this should be set to Friends. In this way, anything you post will only be visible to the people on your friends list.

You can fine-tune this by clicking on Custom as allowing the friends of your friends to view your posts, but you must remember that you have no control over the number of people who will see what you post on the site.

The last option, although it is the first choice from left to right on the screen, is Global. This setting means that everything you put on Facebook will be visible to anyone with a Facebook account.

You should only select this if your Facebook account is a business one and you use it for advertising.

Once you’ve limited who can see your Facebook information, you should put a little thought into what you post and when you post it.

For example, if you’re going on that long-planned tropical vacation, the time to post that information is after you’ve returned from your trip. After all, would you normally announce to the world that no one is going to be at home?

The same is true of indicating that you’re at the coffee shop, the grocery store, et cetera. This gives unscrupulous people not only the fact that there is no one guarding your house, but also an idea of how long you’ll be gone.

Another suggestion relates to what you shouldn’t post. Photos on Facebook may be a wonderful tool to share things with your friends, but you should be careful about what is included in the picture.

You should not post pictures that show valuables, such as artwork, and advertise your house as a potentially good burglary target. Also, any pictures of the inside of your home shouldn’t give clues as to its layout or location.

You wouldn’t give this information to strangers in a face-to-face situation, so why would you do it online?

In short, some of the steps you can take to protect yourself while thoroughly enjoying social media are often basic common sense. And, these steps are ones we’d normally take as we deal with people in the real world.

We’ll consider a few more in the next column.

This is the first of a series on social media safety. Doug Rutherford teaches computer networking and security for Yukon College and three post-secondary educational institutions in British Columbia.

Doug Rutherford teaches computer networking and security for Yukon College and three post-secondary educational institutions in British Columbia.

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