For those of us who grew up without computers, text messaging and e-mail, social networking sites may seem daunting. The Internet has its own set of social norms and acceptable behaviors, most of which are learned by trial and error. But we'll help you out with a few tips on social networking faux pas to avoid.
If you're a parent with a grown child, ask permission before adding your offspring to your online social network. In the same vein, choose your friends wisely. If you're unsure about someone, it's more acceptable to simply not accept a friend request rather than add someone as a friend just to delete that person later.
Try not to overdo it on the friend requests, too. Some social networking sites allow you to upload every address in your e-mail contact list to send an invitation. You probably don't need to send an invitation to every single person you've ever met. Be choosy and invite only friends you think would be genuinely interested.
The Facebook feature "Poke" means different things to different people. Poking can mean flirting or even something sexual in nature. So, think before you poke. Also, think before you post, too. Remember that anything you post on someone's Facebook wall or MySpace comments are public. Sometimes a private message is more appropriate.
Even though you remember high school like it was yesterday, others may not. So if you'd like to catch up with old friends, post a photo of yourself. It helps others to connect the name to a face.
Understand how privacy controls work on your social network and use them. Most social networks allow you to customize who can see the various parts of your profile. If you're adding a professional contact to your social network, you may want them to see only a limited profile -- one that doesn't include the pictures from your last Fourth of July barbeque. Alternatively, you might want your best friend to have access to all your photos.
When you fill out your profile, don't list every single detail about your life from elementary school to now. Just include enough information for your friends to recognize you. And remember that even if your profile is private, applications (like quizzes or games) can also access your profile information. This form of information is mostly used for ad targeting. But sometimes this information gathering can be malicious. If an application seems suspicious to you, uninstall it. Read the privacy statement on any Web site you frequent to avoid surprises.
Don't use the same password on a social networking site that you also use for things like banking or credit cards. It may be easy to remember, but that also makes it easier for a hacker to steal your account information.
No matter what, never assume that anything you post online is completely private.
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