Adults are constantly warning their children to practice safe computing while on the Internet. Those same adults think the rules don’t apply to them.
Sometimes it seems as if the cultures of child and adult suffer from a double standard. Children shouldn’t do one thing but it’s okay for adults.
For example, children must always wear a safety helmet when riding their bikes but adults frequently ignore this safety precaution. Unfortunately, all it takes are a few Facebook friends or Twitter followers to see the safety lapses also occur in social media.
Some users of social networks blatantly violate any and all rules of safe use of social media. They operate with a denial complex.
- “Of the millions of people using social media, no one is going to pick me as their next victim.”
- “Let someone try to get me. I can take care of myself.”
- “I only allow close friends and relatives into my social media site.”
For some unknown reason, these individuals feel they are invulnerable. Perhaps they have never been attacked or had property stolen in the past. So why should anything change now? Throwing caution to the wind they provide all sorts of personal and potentially dangerous information about themselves:
- List street address, city, state, and Zip code in their social media profile.
- List employer, job title, and even work schedule (the latter by posting just before leaving for work and again right after returning).
- Post pictures of their home on social media sites. This provides criminals with location of doors and windows. Shrubbery where they can hide if necessary.
- Post pictures of their possessions. A new car in the garage or driveway, a recently acquired work of art with other items of interest as background in the picture.
- Posting times when the home will be vacant—going on vacation, going to a movie, sporting event, night on the town, etc.
While limiting access to close friends and relatives may seem safe, a user cannot be certain that one of those friends or relatives didn’t decide to “share” the information by reposting it to their friends and relatives? “I really envy Sally Smith. She’s going to a taping of Oprah on Wednesday and then she’s going shopping for her daughter’s prom dress.”
The subtle violations are the hardest to correct. In many cases, they provide indirect information to criminals cruising along the social media superhighway.
- Photos of children at school events with the name of the school prominently visible in the picture.
- Photo of residence with a readable address near the front door.
- Casual mention of a special event the user or a family member may be attending.
- Mentioning an upcoming visit from a family member or friend. (This can place the family member or friend at risk.)
Many people believe a criminal will not go through the trouble of connecting the dots and then collecting the additional information necessary to break in, steal, vandalize, or otherwise victimize a person. This may be true for amateur or novice criminals, but an experienced and successful criminal knows all the things to look for and how to get the additional information for a successful criminal operation.
Is it possible to use social media in such a way that one can be both safe and social? No one is 100% safe all the time. Just as nearly every driver on the road has exceeded the speed limit sometime during a long journey, everyone is likely to drop an inappropriate piece of information occasionally. Becoming aware that a problem exists can make a person more vigilant, whether they suffer from “lead foot on the road” or posting information about an upcoming event they plan to attend.
Instead of posting something like: “My daughter Mary will be representing Woods High School in the Hill County Regional Gymnastics Tournament this Saturday morning.” Try making things a bit more generic. “Mary is going to be competing in a tournament this weekend.” Friends and relatives know the name of Mary’s school and that she is a gymnast. A stranger would not know this and would have greater difficulty obtaining the information necessary for the successful completion of a criminal act.
- Keep detailed information off the social network.
- No street addresses.
- Post vacation photos after returning home—not while 3,000 miles away from home.
- Don’t post pictures of the new car in the driveway with a plainly visible street address.
Carpenters have a saying: Measure twice. Cut once. Think twice before hitting the “Share” button. By using a little common sense most blatant and subtle violations of social media safety could be eliminated. With a little forethought, social media can still be social and safe.