What Karen learned from the seminar, which many parents and Facebook users haven’t, is that all account holders should visit their “Search Privacy Settings” page to determine if they’re searchable via Google, if they’re visible to everyone on Facebook, if their birthday, email address, etc., is being broadcast over the Internet. There are ways to opt out of such full exposure, and ways to manage “Friend Lists”—so not every friend sees everything—but the correct boxes and settings need to be checked. (For detailed information about using the Facebook privacy settings, visit Sophos.com.)
Another hazard is downloading “apps,” which are links to third-party “applications” that can do everything from giving you weather reports to propositioning all of your Facebook friends to have sex. (Perhaps Tiger Woods uses that app.)
“Middle-schoolers don’t have an understanding of damaging consequences,” Karen points out. “They aren’t worried about college admissions officers yet, or what an employer will see about them on Facebook. Just understanding the distinctions between Friends, versus Friends of Friends, versus Networks, is complicated. And then there are the member groups, like ‘Save the Kittens,’ that will suck them in.”
Suck them in? Suck me in! I’ve joined all sorts of groups (Save the Kittens isn’t one of them.) I need to un-join some, and check my privacy settings—before BettyConfidential posts this article.
Among Linda Criddle’s rules for a child using a social networking site is that the young person understands that being on the Internet is a “social responsibility,” and that “Internet safety includes emotional safety, physical safety, and the safety of reputations.”
To make things even easier – and safer – Criddle recommends that youngsters ages 10 to 15 use social networking sites such as YourSphere, Anne’s Diary, AllyKatzz and FaceChipz, each of which has stronger safety settings than the adult-oriented Facebook and MySpace.
There are real-world consequences to making mistakes in the virtual world. The stakes of social networking can be high—especially for the immature, impulsive and indiscrete. Maybe none of us is really old enough for Facebook.
Melissa Stanton is the author of The Stay-at-Home Survival Guide: Field-tested strategies for staying smart, sane, and connected while caring for your kids (Seal Press/Perseus Books). She and Internet-safety expert Linda Criddle are each working on chapters for the upcoming anthology Courageous Parenting, to be edited by Amy Tiemann and published in March by Spark Press. For more information, visit Melissa’s website at www.RealLifeSupportForMoms.com.