Staying Safe on Social Networking Sites

Social networking sites like MySpace, Facebook, and MyYearbook are great ways keep in touch with friends and make new friends all over the world. But just like in the real world, there are good people and not-so-good people online. When you're online, especially on social networking sites, your safety should never leave your mind.

First, what should be obvious:

  • Don't post your full name, address, or phone number online. Anywhere. Ever.

  • Don't share financial information (Social Security number, credit card or bank account numbers). Some of the fun quizzes you see passed along via blogs or MySpace bulletins contain questions like "When is your birthday?" or "What's your mother's maiden name?" These sure seem innocent, but they are also the same questions that financial institutions frequently use to verify your identity. Don't let an identity thief open a credit card in your name before you even get one for yourself!

  • Do not, under any circumstances, agree to meet an online acquaintance in person (real-time in online speak) without someone else with you.

Talking to strangers online

Most online safety experts claim you shouldn't talk to strangers, at all. That might be the safest thing to do. But let's be realistic: You're not likely to follow that advice. (And what's the point of a social networking site if you're not networking and meeting new people?) It's inevitable that you're going to get messages from people you don't know. Just be very careful.

Regarding MySpace in particular, just because your profile is automatically set to be private (available only to people you have identified as okay) until you reach age 18 doesn't mean there aren't pedophiles lying about their own ages to talk to you. Don't assume anyone is who they claim to be from the start. Be particularly wary of people who:

  • Have no photos in their profile and say they can't take any. Come on, who doesn't have access to a digital image of themselves?

  • Have extravagant life-stories that seem too interesting to be true.

  • Contact you out of the blue and seem unusually interested in becoming your friend.

Odds are if someone's online profile or story seems fishy, it probably is. Follow your instincts.

More advice for online safety

Don't use your real name. Online, you can be whoever you want (as long as it's not vulgar and you're not pretending to be someone else). Be creative when choosing screen names, blog names, profile names.

Don't accidentally reveal yourself. If you mention that you're a cheerleader and then post a photo of your high school, it won't be that hard for a creep to piece together who you are.

Don't share your account. Don't let a friend jump onto your profile to send a quick message. Don't give anyone your passwords. These are private, and yours!

Finally, the rule above all rules: Don't post anything you wouldn't want your mother to see. Because she probably will.