Technology Networking & Internet

Social Networking Safety Tips

Social Networking sites provide a fantastic resource for people to meet new people and make new friends. From the comfort of their homes people can meet others from around the world, spending time chatting about an infinite variety of subjects and sharing photos, music, videos and more. In this virtual world it doesn't matter what people look like as many people use cartoon characters or artistic pictures in their profile. This gives many people the confidence to spend time with a huge variety of people from various backgrounds and diverse values and beliefs. It is clear that, by breaking down social barriers in this way, social networking sites are achieving a valuable result in redefining the way that people interact. But, amidst all the positives, it is clear that there remains the possibility for some people to abuse the system, using the freedom of information that the internet aims to provide for their own selfish - and often both illegal and abusive - reasons. For this reason it is essential that users of social networking sites are aware of some basic safety tips before logging in and starting the exciting process to meet new people and make new friends.

1. Never assume that people are who they say they are. We have already mentioned that some people use cartoon images or artistic photos as their profile pictures. Whilst there is essentially nothing wrong with this, it provides the opportunity for people to pretend they are somebody completely different. Just because a person's profile says they are a 16 year old female this is not necessarily true. It is possible that this person is actually much older, perhaps a male, and using these fake details to prey on younger people. Yes such cases are uncommon but they are far from unheard of and never assume that anybody is who they say they are.

2. Never disclose personally identifiable information on your page. Social Networking sites are viewable by a vast variety of people. As we have already suggested, this very fact is one of the reasons why they are so successful. But personally identifiable information such as your full name, address, phone number, date of birth, email address etc should not be displayed on your profile page. This may seem strict but identity fraud is a big issue and it doesn't take much information for fraudsters to be able to assume your identity and start carrying out a string of illegal actions in your name. Use only your first name or a nickname and leave the rest off of your page.

3. Do not lie about your age. It is important that you are honest about who you are in the same way as you would expect to be honest about who they are.

4. Remember that meeting somebody you have met online is extremely dangerous. If you are under 18 then we would propose the blanket guideline of never meeting anybody under any circumstances. As we have already discussed it is impossible to be certain that a person really is who they say they are and tragic consequences have been recorded of people meeting somebody they have met online. Guidelines offered elsewhere that people under the age of 18 should always go with a friend when meeting somebody have simply led to both young people being put at risk. So the advice is simple: do not arrange to meet somebody you have met online if you are under 18.
If you are over 18 and are determined to meet somebody then we would suggest some guidelines to follow.
- Try and speak to the person on the phone beforehand to reassure you that the person sounds genuine. Never give your own number out at this stage - use a public call box if necessary.
- Arrange to meet in a well lit, public place. A caf© or well lit bar would be ideal. Do not meet at a person's home or in a dark nightclub or similar.
- Ask somebody to come with you, at least for the first part of the meeting just to provide some support if required.
- Do not consume too much alcohol at your first meeting. Ensure that you retain control at all times. Ensure that you drink plenty of water or soft drinks as well.
- Never assume that a person is trustworthy and reliable simply due to the first hour or so of meeting them. Take any relationship slowly and do not put yourself in a vulnerable position until you are confident that you know that person.

5. Be very careful when uploading photos or videos containing pictures of yourself or friends. You should always get permission from others before uploading pictures containing themselves. Risqu© and naughty pictures that might seem funny between close friends could easily be downloaded and possibly digitally altered by others before being redistributed. Do not upload pictures of nudity or similar (it is against the rules of most sites anyway) as this provides a clear temptation for other people to abuse.

6. Report any instances of concern as soon as possible to the site's moderators. Most Social Networking sites have a contact form that would be suitable to use. Don't be concerned that you are making a fuss or exaggerating a problem - the site authorities will look into it in detail and make their own judgement. But, for your own safety and the safety of others, please make sure you report any concerns you have.

Social networking sites, such as, are a fun, relaxing and innovative way to meet new people and make new friends. Following the simple guidelines above will help social networking become a safe and fun experience for all.

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