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Safety in online communities

Three girls gathered around a laptop.

Is it safe to post a profile on MySpace, Friendster, or Facebook? arrow top

Many young people think the information they post on websites such as MySpace, Friendster, Facebook, blogs, or other “online communities” will only be seen by their friends. But, often, this is not the case. Anything you post online — even if it’s in a “private” area — can be seen by almost anyone, including your parents/guardians, your teachers, bosses, and strangers, some of whom could be dangerous. For this reason, you should not post information about yourself. Even information that seems harmless, such as where you went to dinner last night, could be used by a stranger to find you.

You should always be careful when posting to blogs or “online communities.” Scam artists have been known to use personal information from your profile to pose as a friend, in hopes that you will give them more personal information, such as your credit card or cell phone numbers. Never give out ANY personal information online. See the question "Is there anything I shouldn’t tell someone on the Internet?" below for a list of specific information you should never give out.

  • Before joining an “online community” or writing in a blog, think about who might be able to see your profile. Some sites will let only certain users see your posted content; others let everyone see postings.
  • Think about keeping some control over the information you post. If you can, limit access to your page to a select group of people, such as your friends from school, your club, your team, your community groups, or your family. Keep in mind, though, this does not always mean that other people can’t see your page.
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One teenager found out the hard way that others can still get to your supposedly "private" page. He created his page when he was 18 years old and starting college. It included photos, a blog, and other personal information. Now he was 20 years old and searching for an internship. Even though the information on his page seemed harmless, his mother, who worked in a Career Services office, urged him to make his page private and he did.

Finally, he got a call from an agency and went in for an interview. He was ready to answer the typical interview questions, but instead, the interviewer began asking questions about what was on his supposedly "private" page. The interviewer explained that because they were a state agency, they could see any profile under the rules of the Patriot Act.

Source: Louisiana State University at Shreveport Career Center

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  • Keep your information to yourself. Don’t post your full name, Social Security number, address, phone number, or bank and credit card account numbers — and don’t post other people’s information, either.
    Be careful about posting information that could be used to identify you or locate you at home or school. This could include the name of your school, sports team, clubs, and where you work, live, or hang out.
    In some instances, you may be asked to supply your birthday or other information. For example, Facebook requests your full name, birthday, and gender in order to set up a page about yourself. In this case, Facebook requests your birthday to protect young people from 'adult' content. Be sure to have an adult, like a parent or guardian, review any web site that may request this kind of information before you post it. If you do receive permission from your parent or guardian to post this kind of information, be sure to limit the people who can view your information to close friends and family.
  • Make sure your screen name doesn’t say too much about you. Don’t use your name, your age, or your hometown. It doesn’t take a genius to combine clues to figure out who you are and where you can be found.
  • Post only information that you are comfortable with others seeing — and knowing — about you. Many people can see your page, including your parents/guardians, your teachers, the police, the college you might want to apply to next year, or the job you might want to apply for in five years.
  • Remember that once you post information online, you can’t take it back. Even if you delete the information from a site, older versions exist on other people’s computers.
  • Don’t post your photo. It can be changed and spread around in ways you may not be happy about.
  • Don’t flirt with strangers online. Because some people lie about who they really are, you never really know who you’re dealing with.
  • Don’t meet someone you met online in person. If someone you met online wants to meet you in person, tell your parents/guardians or a trusted adult right away.
  • Trust your gut if you have suspicions. If you feel threatened by someone or uncomfortable because of something online, tell your parents/guardians or an adult you trust and report it to the police and the web site. You could end up protecting someone else.
  • Choose your words wisely. Some websites where you can chat with your friends have rules about what you can say. You can get kicked out if you break those rules.

Is it okay to share my password with my best friend? arrow top

No. You should not share your password with any of your friends, even your best friend. The only people who should know your Internet or email password are your parents/guardians and you! If you let someone else know what your password is, then they can read anything that you may want to keep private. Another person could use bad language or go to sites you shouldn't be visiting under your name.

Is there anything that I shouldn't tell someone on the Internet? arrow top

Yes! Just like you wouldn't walk up to a stranger and give out your phone number or share your name, where you live, or where you go to school, you shouldn't share this kind of information online either. It is very important that you don't email or IM anyone that you don't know or share any information that can identify you.

Remember:

  1. Don't post your photo on the Internet or send it to someone you don’t know.
  2. Don’t post or send personal information, including:
     
    • full name
    • address
    • phone number
    • login name, IM screen name, passwords
    • school name
    • school location
    • sports teams
    • clubs
    • city you live in
    • Social Security number
    • financial information (credit card numbers and bank account numbers)
    • where you work or hang out
    • names of family members

 

Content last reviewed August 25, 2011
Page last updated October 31, 2013

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women's Health.

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