Millions of American teens -- and teens around the world -- have a social networking profile on sites such as Myspace or Facebook. These sites are a convenient and fun way to interact with friends. But they can also be very dangerous if you aren't careful.
Use the following tips for socializing safely:
- Think about how different sites work before deciding to join a site. Some sites allow you to limit who can view your content, others allow anyone and everyone to view your postings.
- Keep some control over the information you post. Consider restricting access to your page to a select group of people, for example, your friends from school, your club, your team, your community groups, or your family.
- Keep your personal information to yourself. Don't post your hometown, address, phone number, or any bank information--and don't post other people's information, either.
- Be cautious about posting information that could be used to locate you offline. This could include the name of your school, sports team, clubs, and where you work or hang out.
- Post only information that you are comfortable with others seeing - and knowing - about you. Many people can see your page, including your parents, your teachers, the police, the college you might want to apply to next year, or the job you might want to apply for in five years.
- Remember that once you post information online, you can't take it back. Even if you delete the information from a site, older versions exist on other people's computers.
- Consider not posting your photo. It can be altered and broadcast in ways you may not be happy about. If you do post one, ask yourself if you would feel comfortable with your parents viewing it. If not, do not post it. Also, photos posted from cell phones or digital cameras with GPS devices could store the location the photo was taken in the picture's metadata. You may want to consider disabling this feature.
- Flirting with strangers online could have serious consequences. Because some people lie about who they really are, you never really know who you're dealing with.
- Be wary if a new online friend wants to meet you in person. If you do not know the person in real life, do not agree to meet them.
- Trust your gut if you have suspicions. If you feel threatened by someone or uncomfortable because of something online, tell an adult you trust and report it to the police and the social networking site. You could end up preventing someone else from becoming a victim.