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25 March 2014

Social Networking and Personal Safety

I had a rather funny conversation with a good friend of mine today. The conversation had to do with me asking this friend yet again when he is going to join Facebook. The answer he gave made me laugh. It was “when I stop hearing terrible reports about girls getting raped” when I told him you just need to up your privacy settings, and raping is not because of Facebook, you just need to be intelligent about it he asked me to teach him how to make it better. He also mentioned the fear that his cousin’s Facebook account has been hacked a few times. My friend, you know who you are, please do not take offense at this blog post. Rather I hope that in my research, and a bit of person experience, that all who read this can learn to be techno-savvy enough to protect themselves from danger.

It did however surprise me that there are still ignorant people out there about how to protect yourself when it comes to safe internet usage and social networking. I mean come on people, we are not in the dark ages anymore! If you would not walk down the street in scampy clothing, or wearing a big gold watch because of safety, then you would not do that with the internet either. If you would not walk through certain dark alleys at night, why would you frequent those on the internet?

So for those of this who are reading this and feel like you just jump forward 30 years into the technology age and don’t know how to handle it, how do you protect yourself? How can you be careful about what you share and don’t endanger yourself?

Lets start with defining “Social Networking”
Social Networking is not only Facebook. It is defined as “a platform to build social relations among people who, for example, share interests, activities, backgrounds or real-life connections.” From Wikipedia, the article goes on to say it is an “individual-centered service. Social networking sites allow users to share ideas, pictures, posts, activities, events and interests with people in their network.”
So we could say some common social networking sites include GooglePlus, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Instagram, and the like. Although such services as Whatsapp, BBM and Mxit are instant messaging services, they also border on being Social Networking sites, therefore these principles should always be used with your instant messaging as much as they are used for your social networking.

What are the Rules/Principles you should always keep in mind?
1.     Passwords – I know all sites that ask you to have a password say that you should have a different password for each site. I ask you, who is the superhuman that can remember 5, 10, even 20 passwords that include numbers, letters and symbols as well as a unique username for each? No one that I know of! So what do I do? Well, I use a unique password for my email account, which I change weekly. But for all my social networks that I use regularly, I use one password that gets changed once a month on all the accounts. At least that way I keep it pretty safe. To date, my facebook account has never yet been hacked, although I did once accidently hack into someone else’s account, and I still don’t know how it happened. But my twitter account has been hacked once.

2.     Privacy Settings – This is one of the most important points you can try to keep in mind. Not all social networking sites are the same.
a.     Facebook and LinkedIn, as well as BBM for example have pretty high privacy settings. They can be set that only certain people can find you, that only certain people can contact you and that only certain people can comment on or view your posts. I like that, it is a good thing to have and to use. Personally I like to keep these settings as high as possible on these sites.
b.     GooglePlus, Twitter, Pinterest and Whatsapp are typical “not private” networks. Yes, some of them have a degree of privacy that you can use, and it is good to use it. But some of them, like Twitter are meant to be used so that you can be found by just anyone. I particularly do NOT like the systems that both Whatsapp and GooglePlus use as there anyone (including random stalkers) can see your profile and contact you if they have your contact details from times gone by.
3.     What you share – As a general rule, always remember once it is out there on the great big interweb, it will never be erased! It may be hidden, but if someone is looking for it, it will be found.
a.     So NEVER EVER share questionable photos of yourself or others on any form of social networking or instant messaging. If you are not sure what type of photos I’m talking about, think of the photos you would never want your grandmother to know about, or the photos you would rather burn than let your kids see, if those people should never see them, it’s a good indicator that you should never share them with anyone. Delete them, right now!
b.     As for information, would you go to your local community notice board and leave a note that says “114 Baker Street will be vacant for the week because owners are going on holiday to Swaziland”? No! So neither should you leave that information out on social networking sites. Would you leave a photo of your pretty 7 year old daughter with a note that says “My daughter is so sweet. Her name is Abigail, and she goes to Durban Primary School, she’s in Grade 2 and gets off of school at 1pm every day”? NO, of course not, it would be ludicrous to subject your child to such dangers! So why would you expose her to dangers on the web? If you are asking what I’m talking about, those mothers who share a picture of their little one in school clothing and say “just picked up Johnny from school” on twitter, those are what I’m talking about.
c.      Most sites have a “Public area” and a “Messages” area. “Public Areas” are for events, posts/statuses and photos. Those are seen by all whom you allow to see your account. Take special care to ensure those posts are ALWAYS above board. Eg. Your whatsapp/bbm profile photo & status, your facebook & google plus status. The “Messages” area is somewhat private between just you and one (or more) particular other person, although you may be more frank and open in these sections, you should always remember as above, once its on the web, it never comes off. If you share a photo or message with someone, once it is in their hands, they may do anything with it, including sharing it with the world. This is like on your emails, Facebook messenger, bbm messages and even whatsapp messages. So although more private, it can become public. Be careful.
4.     Who you share with – As important as the “What you share” is the topic on who you share with. In fact, this may even be one of the most important topics of all. My personal rule is “If I don’t know them in person, they are not my friend.” Those teenagers on facebook who have 200 – 500 friends, are truly putting themselves in danger’s way. There is no possible way that they actually know that many people personally, therefore they do not know who is a rapist, who is a thief, who is going to try hurt them or who they can trust. We already said with privacy settings on certain sites, you cannot control who you share with. But for the sites you can control who you share with, be clever about it. If you get a friend request, only hit the accept button if you actually know the person. Not if you know someone who knows the person, but if you actually personally have met before. That is a surefire way to keep safer. Also, if you are on the open sites, like GooglePlus or Twitter, you know that you cannot be entirely private, you know that there will random freaky people out there. If you begin to feel uncomfortable for even one post that they send to you, BLOCK them. Do not be afraid to do this, nor feel guilty.
For times when you feel you don’t really know the person, but they may be a useful business contact, make another account for your business. Always keep your true friends and family, and your random business associates separate. That way you can share only what you want to with the two different groups.
5.     Don’t take anything too seriously – Really, don’t take anything too seriously. There will be the occasional hack, there will be the occasional hater. Don’t take them seriously. If your account has been hacked, change your password, report the hacking to the site admin & apologize to all those who you have on your network. If someone that you know personally starts harassing you or acting weirdly, ask them if they have been hacked. If they have not been hacked, then have a straight out heart to heart with them that you don’t feel that kind of behavior is acceptable as your friend, if they don’t change, remove them from your friend base. I was also asked about another scenario where “a girl’s profile photo was taken and pasted onto a porn photo, so it looked like that girl was posing for porn”. Seriously, don’t take that too serious, some kid could do that with a photo from a school yearbook too. You cannot blame social networking for doing that. You also cannot blame people for thinking you’re a slut if you have a racey picture (the type taken in the bathroom, or on the hood of a car), or for thinking you’re a lover of violence if you have a picture of Bruce Lee on your profile photo (profile photo is also known as an avatar, it is the photo/picture you use to let others recognize you on your social networking sites). Just remember to laugh and that those who truly know you will know that you are not the type of person to have your face on a porno picture.
6.     A few last tips:
No one likes to be invited to hundreds of games, birthday, and gambling apps. So don’t do it!
You will be notified every time someone likes/+1s our posts, comments on your post, sends you a message, sends you anything. Pretty much its going to drive you mad with notifications. You can easily adjust this by going into your settings and clicking “notifications”, its pretty simple to understand, just read instructions.
It can be addictive, you will find yourself spending a lot of time online suddenly. The addiction should die down in a few days, if it doesn’t, then you don’t really have a life. Don’t worry, all you need to do now is go onto and suddenly you wont be spending all your time on social networking anymore, but instead you’ll be running around like a madman looking for lost treasure in the park.
NEVER, EVER go meet a random stranger you came into contact with on social media! If for some unknown reason you really have to meet this person, make sure you choose a public place and take at least one, preferably more, close friend/family member with you.

Have fun!