Thursday, March 3, 2011

How Online Predators Make Use of Your Facebook Profile

Social networking websites like MySpace and Facebook are very popular among teens and that popularity comes with risks. The Internet has a dark history of predators connecting with vulnerable young people but social networking sites have added a whole new dimension to this sinister side of the web.

The Dark Side of Social Networking Sites

In the past predators had to make direct contact with potential victims in chat rooms or forums before being able to lure them in to real world danger. Social networking sites have changed that. Now predators can surf these sites, hand pick targets that appeal to them, and stalk the person they choose without any direct contact at all.

Predators don’t even need to be on the target’s friends list to get things going. Since the purpose of these sites is to connect with other people on a purely social level most users have a naiveté about the way they set up their profiles.

Online Predators and Facebook

How do Internet predators take a profile page on a social networking site and turn it in to a map of your life? It’s really not that difficult. Let’s look at Facebook as an example.

On Facebook people openly list information like their gender, birth date, hometown, school, political views and religious affiliations. They enhance their profiles with personal statements, lists of hobbies and social groups, lists of favorite things and employment histories. Some users include even more personal embellishments like email addresses, phone numbers and relationship status.

Facebook users dress up their profiles with applications that do everything from showing their current mood to describing their romantic personality. Facebook gives away lot of information about users. There are event announcements, party attendance lists, friend lists, group lists, fan pages and The Wall where friends post messages. All of these things make it very easy for a predator to stalk you in real time.

Protecting Yourself From Facebook Predators

While nothing is fail safe here are some tips that will keep you safer:

Make your profile private so that only friends can see it. People from your past that may be looking for you will still find your name in a search but they won’t see your profile until you add them as a friend. Predators will always choose a readily available target over one that takes work to even find.

Set up a limited profile using the privacy settings on Facebook. Use it for people from your past or people you don’t know well.

Don’t list your birth date, or at the very least omit the year. Don’t list your school name or the name of where you work. Consider not listing your hometown, political views or religious affiliations. Keep as much personal information as possible off of your profile page.

Don’t put your phone number on your profile. People you really know will have other ways to get it.

Keep your personal statement limited. When you make a detailed personal statement you give a predator all the information that they need to create a fantasy relationship with you. The more a predator knows about you the easier it is to seek out ways to bond or connect with you in real life.

Never accept an invitation to a party or event on Facebook. Decline all online invitations and if you plan to attend tell the host in person.

Don’t tag your pictures. Strangers won’t know your friends’ names even if they can see their faces. Never label where a picture was taken, like a club or other public place, instead label pictures with simple non-identifying titles like, “Summer Party ‘07”or “Randoms.”

Restrict your picture settings so that only friends can see pictures you post or pictures that you are tagged in. You do this in the privacy settings on Facebook.

Be selective in the applications that you add. Stay away from overly personal applications or applications that give away information you have purposely left out of your profile.

Social networking sites can be fun. They are great ways to stay connected to people and to get in touch with old friends. You do not have to stay away from sites like Facebook in order to be safe online. You just need to be aware and make smart decisions about the things you put on your profile page.
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