Tonight purely by accident I stumbled upon the Facebook page of a student I know at one of our local high schools. I didn't know he was on Facebook but he had commented on a post in my NewsFeed by someone who turns out to be a mutual friend.
Curious to know if it was the person I thought it was, as his Facebook profile picture was not a photo of him, I clicked on the link to his name expecting to see the standard "basic info" you see for everyone and then the privacy message that usually greets you:
Instead, I saw everything...
Walls Wide Open
His Facebook "Wall" was wide open for all to see. Anyone. I saw all his posts... all his photos... all the comments between him and his various friends. I clicked on the Info link and learned all about where he goes to school (which I knew), his musical tastes, the sports he likes, movies, television shows, games, religious views...
And I got to see all of his friends...
... probably a good half of whom ALSO had wide open walls.
In the course of maybe 10 or 15 minutes of flipping around, I learned a good bit about some of the region's high school age students, saw a whole bunch of photos, read a few conversations that probably weren't meant to be public (or at least to be read by 40+ year-old men sitting at home on their computers)...
...and generally got increasingly concerned about the amount of information these students were perhaps inadvertently disclosing about themselves and their lives.
Now, this is, after all, what Facebook seems to want. They generally default to public sharing, and so if you don't take active steps to protect your privacy, all your content will be shared with the world. And while some people are quite okay with that, I'm personally not.
If I could say anything to these high schoolers or their parents - and to all the others reading this post, it would be that there are three critical reasons why you might want to think about restricting your Facebook privacy a bit more.
The most obvious one is the security angle. There are a lot of sickos out there. I've been online for now almost 30 years and I've seen all sorts of seriously warped stuff... information security has always wound up as part of what I've been involved with, and some of what I've had to do has taken me to seriously vile and heinous parts of the Internet.
There are warped people out there. There are thieves and scammers and fraudsters and perverts and others who prey on people online. They've always done this... Facebook just makes it ultra-easy to do. They can start commenting or "liking" your posts and photos. Striking up friendships. Sending you messages. Wanting to meet, etc., etc.
With your wall wide open, you are giving them all the info they need for "social engineering" to know exactly what to say to you. They know the music you like, the TV shows you like, etc. They've seen your photos, so they know what you look like, what you like to wear, etc. It's insanely easy for them to gain your confidence and trust.
You are also giving them your location. You are letting them know where you are, what you are doing. It's a wonderful way that your friends can know where to meet you (and it is. I personally use it that way.)... it's unfortunately also a way for a stalker to find you. And sure, it may not ever happen in your town/city, but why give out all this info when you don't really need to?
You also give away where you are not. Believe it or not, people's homes have been robbed after they were posting publicly about going away from their homes.
Location info... and really all this personal information... is really best shared only with those you trust.
2. Employers Check Facebook
The second reason to restrict your info is because if you are a high school student looking for even a part-time job, guess what that potential employer is going to do?
Yes, they (or at least the smart ones) are going to search for you on Google and Facebook and see what turns up.
In 2012, you're pretty crazy as an employer if you are NOT doing background checks on the Internet. Who needs to call references when you can just go to a search engine and learn more about potential employees than you probably ever wanted to know? (including all the "stupid sh__" they did last weekend?)
It's real. It happens. And stuff lives on in Google's caches far longer than you would ever think.
3. Colleges Check Facebook
If you are in the process of applying to colleges, you probably don't want admissions officials reading your wall conversation with a friend where you are trashing one potential college and talking about another. Nor do you potentially want them seeing your writing, spelling, photos, etc. (unless, of course, it's awesome and might help you get into a school).
Managing your "online reputation" is something that you have to start thinking about NOW.
How To Close The Walls
To start, the best thing to do is to go into Facebook's "Privacy Settings" that, today, anyway, are found in the drop-down arrow next to your name in the upper right corner of the web version of Facebook:
Facebook unfortunately has a way of changing these settings around from time to time. But if you go down to "Privacy Settings" you'll get the window you see below, where you can make two important changes:
- Set your default privacy to "Friends".
- Change all past posts to be set to "Friends".
Note that when you click that "Manage Past Post Visibility" you'll see a window pop up that warns you that all posts shared with friends or the public in the past will be restricted. Then you'll get ANOTHER window just confirming that you really, really want to do this and warning you that you can't undo it and will have to manually change it on each post if you want to share those posts publicly again. Finally, you'll be able to change the setting.
You may also want to click "Edit Settings" next to "How You Connect" and restrict who can find your profile, who can send you messages, who can write on your timeline, etc. Here are my settings, which I have changed from whatever Facebook sets as the default settings (probably "Everyone" for all of them):
If you do these three steps,
nothing will really change for you on Facebook!
You'll still be able to interact with your friends. You'll still be able to write on each other's walls. You can still tag each other in photos, send each other messages, etc.
It's just that now when anyone who isn't your friend goes to see your Facebook profile... whether they are other students who aren't your "friend", parents of other students, potential employers, college admission officials... or sick creeps... or just random people out on the Internet... all they will see is this:
All that other personal information stays within the circle of the people you have accepted as "Friends" on Facebook.
And YOU are in control of what employers, college admission officials and everyone else sees.
- These privacy settings do not completely remove the chance your info can be publicly disclosed. Your info and photos go out to your Friends' Newsfeeds, and they can then in turn "share" your info out to other people... and somewhere along the way may be someone whose settings are more public. However, you are greatly restricting the potential of that with these settings.
- There's a separate conversation that could be had about how you could selectively post certain items publicly to create a public profile that would actually be positive for employers/colleges to see. For instance, notes about awards you've won, volunteer activities you've accomplished, great photos you've taken or articles you've written, etc. But again, you are in control of that information.
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