Over the past couple of months, I have received MANY private messages on Facebook. Most of the messages came from people I know personally who had nice things to say. However, some messages were from online acquaintances who asked rather inappropriate questions. That has made me think about who these people really are and whether our virtual friendship has run its course.
Do You Know Who Your Friends Are?
Sure, you knew Lulu back in elementary school, but is she someone with whom you want to share pictures of your kids or your brand-new car? At least three people who went to high school with me have been arrested for child-based crimes, and that has prompted me to take a close look at which friends I allow to see photos of my niece and nephews.
Now, back to Lulu from third grade. Do you know for certain that Lulu doesn’t put on a ski mask, break through windows, and burglarize homes at night? If you can’t answer “yes” with complete confidence, she probably shouldn’t be privy to your family’s upcoming vacation plans and other details about your life.
If we scrutinize our Facebook friends lists, most of us will find people we don’t know all that much about. Sure, you might have attended the same middle school as someone or you work with them, but do you know and trust them well enough to let them inside your most personal virtual spaces?
Here’s a second question to guide you: Would you invite that person into your home?
If not, you should consider limiting their access to your life online.
Four Tips for Maximizing Your Social Media Safety
- Treat Your Friends List Like Your House – There are settings on Facebook that allow you to label people as acquaintances and filter what those persons are allowed to see. If there’s a Facebook friend or Instagram follower whom you wouldn’t want in your physical home, banish them from your virtual home. Do not allow them to see photos of your kids at Christmas, your new bedroom furniture, or the outdoor kitchen you just installed. Change your settings so they are “acquaintances,” and limit what they can see. If you are taking a poll about which laundry detergent is best or you want to post a shout-out to a really cool company, share away. But keep your kids, dogs, husband, house, and car private.
- Review and Update Your Privacy Settings – Facebook lets you view your profile as someone else, so you can see what people who aren’t your friends see when they look up your account. Try it. If you do not like what you see, amp up your profile’s privacy settings. Also, you can change privacy settings on old posts, block out who can see your friends and more. Take some time to explore your social settings and make updates that will better protect access to your personal life.
- Do Like the Queen of Hearts and Say, “Off With Their Heads” – Okay, not literally. “Alice in Wonderland” was one of my favorite novels growing up, so it seems fitting to use the infamous words of the Queen of Hearts here. Every couple of months, go through your lists on social media and pare them down. If you are not interacting with people but notice they are always watching, lurking, or trolling, delete them.
- Learn the Meaning of “Friend” – A friend is someone with whom you share time, memories, and conversations. An acquaintance is someone who worked in the mail room for six months at a company you were employed by for less than a year. Know the difference. The number of followers you have on Instagram and Facebook may matter to your livelihood if you are an influencer, but if you are the average social media user, does it really matter? Be more selective about accepting friend and follower requests.
Stay Alert for Stranger Danger
We live in a world gone mad. Every day, something nutty appears on the news about some random person who went a little bit crazy and started breaking into homes, assaulting strangers, or worse. The common thread connecting those instances is that people who thought they knew those individuals regarded them as nice, polite, and unassuming persons. It can be difficult enough to gauge people’s trustworthiness in person, let alone through their online presence. The moral of the story: Be wary about who you let into your private life on social media. Protect yourself!