Last Updated: March 10, 2012 3

Social Networking: What Do I Need to Know?

Found In: Social Networks

It seems that everyone is on some form of social network these days. With the frequent scare-mongering going on in the news, it’s possible to get the impression that these websites are crawling with unsavoury characters ready to leap out at a moment’s notice and infect the minds of the young and impressionable. The reality, however, is far more mundane than the media would have you believe.

The Basics of Social Networking

Social networks essentially allow people to create their own little mini-webpage that others can see. They also have a range of gadgets, such as small games and useful tools. People can tag each other as friends, comment on each other’s sites, and chat. Your page can contain whatever you choose to reveal about yourself: your favourite music, your photos, or your diary.

People enjoy using these sites for many reasons. They allow them to keep in contact with friends who might have moved away or who they would normally never get the chance to call. For teenagers, it allows them to be a part of a group, and of course, to show off to all their friends. It’s all part of the networking phenomenon of making new contacts online who share their interests, and for the vast majority of users, it’s just a way to have fun with friends and meet new people.

Should You Be Concerned?

The main concern for parents is where their children make contacts that may be shady in nature. Social networking sites have been used by sexual predators to make contact with vulnerable victims, although this is thankfully rare. Identity theft is another problem; if someone reveals too much information, it may lead to a criminal guessing the password to their email, gaining access to their credit card information, and other harmful acts. It is also possible for seemingly benign information to become an issue – many employers do online searches for prospective employees, and they are not likely to offer a job to someone whose social profile includes many embarrassing photos.

How to Protect Yourself

The most important thing to remember is that, although it’s fun and a great way to keep in touch, using a social networking site is like shouting things about yourself in the middle of the street. Unless a user specifically restricts who can read their webpage, any information there is as public as if they ran an advert in the newspaper. The vast majority of social networking sites also provide privacy settings which allows a user some level of control over who can read about them. It’s also important to know that people frequently lie about themselves online, and although there is no need to automatically suspect everyone, a healthy dose of caution won’t go astray.

Parents should be aware of who their children are associating with. Contacts through social networking are the online equivalent of meeting strangers in the street, and they should be viewed with the same level of caution and interest. Take note of what information they’re giving out, and think about whether that information can be used against them. Common sense is the best course of action – there is no need to completely prevent a child from using Facebook or Twitter, for example. Just be aware of what they do, and caution them if necessary.