Whether you plan to join a social networking website or, like millions of people around the world, you are already an active member, there are some things you should keep in mind. These strategies and suggestions will help protect your online identity and integrity.
Know your privacy settings
When you sign up for a social networking site like Facebook, the first thing you should do is check your privacy settings. Find out who has access to your profile, pictures, and other content. Can anyone on the Internet see it? Can you restrict who has access to your material? The answers to these questions and the level of privacy you choose should influence what you decide to post online.
Assume the world is watching
When you post photos, videos, and comments online, you should always assume the world is watching you. Access to the Internet is ubiquitous, and information has a way of leaking out all over the place. Your online profile might seem private and protected (and to some degree, it may be), but when human nature gets thrown into the mix, what was once private may make its way to the hands of your parents, peers, or the authorities.
What happens on the Internet, stays on the Internet
Assume that whatever you post to the Internet will remain online forever. Even if you remove something within a day or so of posting it, the material may still be available. Others may download a copy to their personal computers; the server may retain backup copies; or search engines like Google may keep a “cached” copy for future searching. If there’s a chance you won’t want others seeing your photos, videos, or comments at a later date, it’s best not to post them at all.
You are not anonymous
People may feel emboldened by the sense of anonymity provided by the Internet. However, you are not anonymous. Even if you never associate your real name or other attributes with a posting, your actions leave digital fingerprints. Internet service providers (ISPs) can trace those fingerprints back to you. Remember that the next time you’re tempted to post compromising or illegal material.
You are responsible for your actions
As an adult and a citizen of the United States, you are responsible for your actions. If you post obscene or offensive material online, others will take note and react accordingly. If you break the law and brag about it online, you may get a visit from the police. Prospective or current employers may not approve of what they see online. Avoid the embarrassment (and worse) that comes with poor judgment—behave responsibly.