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Don’t Tell All: Safe and Sensible Social Networking

by Paula Wansbrough

We’ve all heard the stories. The disgruntled employee insults her boss on Facebook and loses her job. A potential employer comes across an inappropriate tweet and the candidate doesn’t get the call-back.

Then there are other stories in which the destructive online content is produced by someone else: the woman cyberstalked by her ex-partner; the youth endlessly bullied by peers online and off.

For some people, social media isn’t a thrilling opportunity to promote skills and expertise. It’s threatening, even dangerous. Just as it can boost a personal brand, it can destroy a hard-earned reputation (think Lori Douglas) and shatter a sense of safety and security.

As you work with clients and peers keep in mind that some may have experienced violence and abuse in their personal lives. Abusers and bullies will use social media to track their victims and continue their manipulations, often taking advantage of the anonymity the online world can provide.

Taking Care

All of us need to think carefully as we social network. It helps maintain a professional profile and lowers the chance of theft – of your identity and the old-fashioned kind too. (Are you posting you out-of-town adventures to Facebook or MySpace?)

This warning is not meant to scare you off posting, sharing and tweeting. Social media are excellent tools for career developers, in the same way jigsaws are for carpenters and 18-wheelers are for truckers. Just exercise caution!

See what’s offered:  Compare the privacy promises of competing social media. Read privacy and terms of use information before you join any network. Don’t assume that a site’s default options are the best for your privacy needs.

Do the stranger test: If you wouldn’t give your information to a stranger on the street, don’t post it online. Never list your home address or phone, birth date, or your social insurance number.

Think strategically: Limit your work history because this information can be used to fill out fraudulent loan, job and other applications. Get creative and provide just enough information to entice employers into making contact with you. LinkedIn allows you to restrict access to your network — does this fit your needs?

Think before you post that tweet/blog entry/list message/photo/favorite: Would you want your (future) boss to see this? Your (future) children? Your greatest enemy? The person you admire most?

Think before you post information about others: 
In the professional world, use release forms before posting your organization’s staff biographies and event photos. Respect requests to limit or eliminate online information. Remove all identifying details when discussing clients in any online forum, including email.

More resources on online networking safety:

Social Networking Security: Tips for Safe and Secure Social Networking
From the Higher Education Information Security Council, an American council that works to improve information security and privacy in the higher education sector.

12 Tips for Safe Social Networking
A Network World report on avoiding identity theft

7 Things to Stop Doing Now on Facebook
A recent article from Consumer Reports Magazine on the dangers of sharing too much through Facebook

Paula Wansbrough is ContactPoint’s content administrator and editor of The Bulletin. She is a freelance project manager in the non-profit sector specializing in web-based projects.

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