Staying Safe on Facebook

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Recent news stories have reported a litany of Facebook horror stories from geriatrics – you know, people  over age 30 – who dented their dignities, if not their careers, through careless social networking. Some people think that the post-collegiate crowd is simply too fuddy-duddy for Facebook. Others insist that the site is now as essential as e-mail and phone service, if not air and water, and nobody of any age should be discouraged from squandering time on Facebook. Even Bill Gates is reported to have a half-hour-a-day Facebook habit.

A typical Facebook humiliation scenario involves having someone post something questionable to your “wall”, “the public Facebook page, and then having that item inadvertently and automatically blasted to everyone you know via Facebook. That group often includes business associates and other people with whom you’ve cultivated an illusion of respectability. Horrors!

Because the Internet offers so many paths to public humiliation, it’s not entirely fair to single out Facebook. In the sit’s defense, you have to be a Facebook member to see all of the truly embarrassing items on another member’s page. Besides, Google can reveal more dirt about a person than Facebook does, and that includes material over which an individual has little control.

But if you have a professional reputation to protect, a Facebook account creates a risk. those two are natural enemies, like eggs and bowling balls. Facebook is simply not designed as a tool for business. If you feel that you have no choice but to dilly-dally on Facebook, consider these facts.

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Facebook was designed by adolescents, for adolescents with adolescent goals in mind. Only a few years ago, a .edu e-mail address was a prerequisite to a Facebook account, a requirement that effectively limited membership to college students. That sensibility remains part of Facebook’s DNA. A site designed to help you publish photos of yourself barfing over a beer keg is unlikely to help burnish your reputation in business.

Facebook’s opaque user interface, the result of its fundamentally collegiate, video-gamer sensibility, is not designed to be an effective business tool. Mistakes are far easier to make and harder to correct than you’d expect in an application designed for actual work.

You can’t predict or control who will ask to “friend” you on facebook. What do you do when your boss or an important client asks to become your Facebook friend? If your Facebook page includesthe names of everyone in your witches’ coven, do you want important potential clients to see that? Or will you insult some bigwig by refusing a friend request? It’s not exactly the dilemma of the ages, but it’s certainly a potential social headache that adults need to consider when joining Facebook.Facebook developers often spring new features on users without warning. Not long ago a new “beacon” feature tracked members’ online shopping transactions and broadcast details to the world. The feature was dialed back after a firestorm of protest as well as some huge lawsuits over privacy violations, but the impulsive sensibility of Facebook developers augurs similar surprises in the future. And it raises the creepy question of why Facebook is collecting that information in the first place.

Facebook phishing is beginning to surface. In one scenario, scammers hijack the Facebook log-in of a friend of yours and then pretend to be that friend with an urgent need for money. They contact you via chat and start the scam from there. To you, it looks like a request from a person you actually know, often embellished with personal information gleaned from your own Facebook entries. If anyone asks you for money on Facebook, use your head – don’t do it. At the very least, insist on direct contact in person or via a phone call that you originate. You need to be sure that you’re dealing with a moocher you actually know, not some unknown scammer. You should also contact the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, at www.ic3.gov, to file a complaint.

In some other cases, a phony Facebook friend invites you to view a video that requires you to download a player. Naturally, that player is infected with malware. Obviously, this same scam could be delivered by e-mail or ordinary Web surfing, but the familiarity of relationships on Facebook induces people to lower their guard.
Don’t despair. You can maintain a reasonable level of safety on Facebook. A few common-sense precautions can reduce your risk of problems. For starters, look over your privacy settings by selecting Privacy Settings from the Settings drop-down menu in the upper right-hand corner of the screen. You can adjust every detail of your privacy settings, including who can see pictures, postings, personal information, and work information. You can also adjust what individual members see, so your boss or ex-spouse might not see things that the rest of the world does. There’s some wisdom in allowing only people you actually know to view your profile.

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