Being in youth ministry and soon beginning a ministry for the college and career aged young adults, I'd like to give some pointers on trying to remain smart and safe on social networks such as Facebook, MySpace, blogs and the many product review websites out there today.
As many of you know, social networks that use to focus on mostly celebrities, musicians and college kids are now open to the rest of the world. And even though the kids get frustrated that we adults are on "their" social sites, it's important for us as adults to relay safe social networking skills to our kids, family and friends.
The number one thing I see among all kids and even most adults is that their personal information is easily accessed. The problem with this is that kids are opening themselves up to predators and we adults are opening ourselves up to identity theft.
We all get excited about telling the world the current thought in our mind or thing happening right now through our "status updates" that we truly let out way too much information on what's going on.
Sometimes this is ok but do you or your kids:
> "Update the whole world" as to when you are going on vacation or that you are at work or school? Well, this lets everyone know that your house will be available to be robbed. Even posting your school or work info can make it easy for somone to figure out when you are not home.
> Do you or your kids share so many photos of yourself, your school, work, etc., that it makes it so easy for a predator of any kind to stalk you or your kids? Think about it - If your kids are posting the high school they go to, the school athletic team they are on, their jersey number, tag ALL their friends in photos, - the list can keep going. What makes any of us think that these predators won't go to those schools and lure your child away? If someone sits back and watches your kid's page for several months - sometimes even a few weeks, they can have enough information to go to that school and influence your kids in some way. All they need to do is spot your kid wearing that jersey or that group of friends and you never know what can happen.
> What about you or your kids posting your home address, cell phone number and personal E-mail address? Trust me - I have seen more kids do this than most adults. There ARE privacy settings on these networks so please encourage your kids to use them. Not only that, on networks like Facebook, you don't have to include the year you were born if you wish to post your birthday.
> Do you or your kids play games on those social networks? Honestly, I have played a couple and have tailored it down to pretty much just one now. I have friends that I don't know personally but many have become close through these games. And in doing so, I have been able to pray for these friends when they have difficult times and send encouragement when needed. BUT, when I see anyone change their profile photo to a vulgar photo (yes, it's happened quite a few times and I don't need to see someone without their clothes on) - I report those to the social network. That person will be asked to change that photo or they will lose their account. There are rules and guidelines on these networks and lewd or vulgar photos are a no-no. And there have been quite a few times that I remove a "friend" because they either use obscene language, are rude to others or in my case I have many friends that are Police Officers and they will advise me of a child predator and we work together in getting them removed. You are also able to block a person in your settings - so use it if necessary.
> Before you or your kids accept that "friend request" just check out that person's page first. Check their info and photos. Are YOU a female and does that person who happens to be a male have only ALL female friends? A huge FLAG should go up.
> The "ads" that appear on these social networks are also geared towards all of the information that you put out there. So if you are tired of seeing that ad that seems to be directed only to you - check your privacy settings; check what you post. You can "google" for privacy setting instructions on these networks and once you turn them off, uncheck them, remove the extra information that doesn't need to be on there, you can finally enjoy these social places.
> Our social network pages and mainly Facebook, is viewable by employers, future colleges, etc. If there are things on your "page" that you'd be embarrassed about for your boss, future boss or school to know about - then don't post it. And if you don't get that job or into that college - could it be they found you and didn't like what you were portraying? It's already happened to people and that's where playing it smart and safe comes in. So if you got totally "smashed" or whatever term it is they use today, don't put it up and if someone tags you because you did, "untag" yourself and get it off your page. It may have been a funny photo but it wouldn't be funny if you lost a job or college entry over it.
> I would not recommend having your kids take their pages down or you leaving these networks as they can be very useful. We use them all the time to send information to our "kids" and it's great to put events on their social calendars because we all know how well our kids bring us those papers of events we were suppose to attend. But just make sure you are playing it smart and be knowledgeable and be informed.
> If you get an Email through Facebook or MySpace that's sent to your Email - DON'T click the link in your Email. Go to your Facebook or MySpace account and look through there. Too many times people are hit with viruses that send themselves this way.
If someone posts something embarrassing to me or questionable, I remove it from my page - you DO have control over stuff. And there are some self executing videos that were recently being sent thru Facebook via Email and posting on our profile pages.
Whenever I have personal information that I don't want ALL of my friends to know about, I just E-mail that one person directly who I wish to share it with.
Even in sharing your photos, check your privacy settings. You can select to share them ONLY with your friends. If everything is marked as being "shared with EVERYONE", then guess what? I can google you and easily find those photos - so can the person or people you don't want to show.
I think it's so important to be safe now that we are communicating more and more through technology. I know our kids don't think it's a big deal but check out this video on YouTube about "Too Much Information" - it's just over a minute and it's EXACTLY what our kids do and we probably have too. It's actually very scary when you realize what all we tell the world. So please be smart and knowledgable about what you "share" and with WHO.