When I was a student at Columbia University, I attended an orientation where James McShane, current VP of public safety and former police Sergeant, warned us to protect ourselves online by NOT posting the following on Facebook:
- Our addresses
- Our apartment numbers
- Vacation Photos
- Updates/Announcements of our current location
Sergeant McShane warned us that problem of social media as it related to Columbia students was that too much personal information was made public.
Other students and “friends” of fellow students on Facebook knew instantly when another student was away from their apartment, home for spring break, or on Broadway seeing a show.
In other words, the best times to break into apartments both on and off campus were constantly advertised, free of charge, by students.
Even though it was rude for me to do so during McShane’s lecture, I opened up the Facebook app on my iPhone, went to “Settings” and saw that my posts were set to “Public.” This meant ANYONE with a Facebook account could see my recent announcement that I was excited to be at Butler library all afternoon working on my book. I had effectively told the world exactly where I would be, when, and for how long.
I didn’t get robbed that day, and I upgraded my security so only “Friends” could see my updates (another setting is to allow friends of your Facebook friends to see posts, but this is the same problem again—strangers with your information). I also took the advice of keeping my whereabouts to myself. However, I know most of my students at The New School and most of my friends share almost every detail of their lives on Pinterest, Tumblr, Facebook, and Instagram.
It’s disturbing to think about how there are people taking advantage of innocently posted vacation information and fun photos from a trip. However, the truth is real privacy does not exist on the Internet or on social media platforms. Everything a person posts online exists in some form there forever.
The answer to this problem isn’t to swear off all social media. Facebook and sites like it are a useful feature of our lives now. However, there are some things you can do to keep your family safe.
The privacy settings on Facebook and Instagram change almost every time the software is updated, so you (and your children) need to be vigilant about your privacy. Instead of just agreeing to the new terms without reading them, make your kids read about what information is shared and not shared along with what personal information is provided to third-party companies. Be informed about what is public and what is meant to remain private.
Avoid announcing vacation locations and the duration of your visits. Photos of the outside of your home, your children’s schools, vacation photos (while you are away), addresses, phone numbers, social security numbers (yes, people share these), friends’ personal information, and any other sensitive information should stay off the grid.
Don’t trust your family’s personal safety to the security settings on a social media site. This is just common sense, but for kids (and adults) Facebook and sites like it seem like a safe place to share.
Actually, in many cases they might be.
But, why take the risk?
By Grant Bergland, Private Tutor