Social networking sites are popular on the Internet. Online social networks have sprung up for business, hobbies, schools and religious groups. Used properly, they are a unique communications tool to keep in touch with friends and colleagues. But like any online tools, social networking sites can be "gamed" and abused by scammers and other unscrupulous people. It is important to protect yourself by following a few important steps.
- Create safe screen names. Your screen name should not reveal any of your personal information. Use names such as Pizza Lover, Blue Cat or I Love Daisies.
- Be careful what you put online. When you put a photo, or video or written account online, it stays for a very long time and a lot of people can see it. Many employers routinely check social networking sites as part of the hiring process. Criminals use the sites to trawl for personal information they can use. Don't put anything up that you might regret. This includes compromising photos and videos, and especially any sensitive personal data.
- Protect your privacy. Most social networking services offer extensive privacy options. You can use these settings to prevent anyone you don't know from viewing your information. Think about the information you have online, and whom you want seeing it; set your privacy levels accordingly.
- Disable options, then open them one by one. Think about how you want to use social networking. If it's only to keep in touch with people and be able to contact them then maybe it's better to turn off the bells and whistles. It makes a lot of sense to disable an option until you have decided you do want and need it, rather than start with everything accessible.
- Think carefully about who you allow to become your “friend.” Once you have accepted someone as your friend they will be able to access any information about you (including photographs) that you have marked as viewable by your friends. You can remove friends at any time should you change your mind about someone.
- Be careful about meeting your social networking "friends" in person. It's not easy to tell who a person is from a photograph and a few lines of text. If you're going to meet in person, think about doing so in a public place, during the day.
- Show "limited friends" a cut-down version of your profile. You can choose to make people 'limited friends' who only have access to a cut-down version of your profile if you wish. This can be useful if you have associates who you do not wish to give full friend status to, or feel uncomfortable sharing personal information with.