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socialnettree250.jpgWith the rise of social media websites and the misuse of personal information contained within those websites, I think it is a good idea to give some pointers to help you protect your online life. By the time you read this, the Online Teaching Conference in San Diego will be over. I will participate in a panel discussion on social media, and I wanted to have a follow-up article highlighting some of the cautions I plan to give.

First things first, what do I mean by "online" when I talk about identity, personality, life and relationships? Your online personality is the personality you present while online. This personality can be different from the one you have offline. Your offline personality being the one you would have if we met face to face. For example, if we just met offline you would most likely not start showing me pictures of your children or grandchildren, or, tell me how “wasted” you were last weekend. However, online for some reason, you might expose me to all of that information, plus what you think of your ex.

I will leave the reasons, sociology and psychology out of it, if you concede the point that a majority of people treat online relationships different than offline relationships.

More of us know how to protect ourselves and our reputations offline than we do online. My hope here is to give you a few tips and tricks to protecting yourself in our new online social virtual world.

1. Leave the drama at home. I can't believe some of the stuff people post online for all to see. We don't need Jerry Springer anymore, we have social media. We can often find out who is mad at whom and why. The first thing that comes to mind is TMI (Too Much Information).

2. Don't post personal information or anything you don't want everyone to see. People are, rightfully, concerned about having too much personal information online. This is true, especially, if you connect with casual acquaintances such as students. I avoid the problem by not putting personal information I don't want to get out online.

3. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Ah yes, the golden rule works, even online.

4. Keep it professional or maybe semi-professional. This relates to 1 and 2 above but, if you think about it, if you keep it professional, you will have no worries. Now, you don't have to be stuffy white-collar professional unless you want to be. You should be human and avoid false pretense. There has been a blurring of the lines of personal and professional lives and we have to find the sweet spot and avoid crossing the line.

5. Never post crude or vulgar comments. People do judge you based on what you say and write. I just saw and example of this the other day. A friend of my younger brother “friended” me on Facebook. I see him often at gatherings at my brother’s house so I added him as a friend. About a week later, I was looking at something he posted and I ended up on his profile. Needless to say, most of his friends posted crude or vulgar comments. If they have a hard time getting a job, I think I know why.

6. Speak truth with kindness. If you feel compelled to comment on someone's status or post that you don't agree with their point of view, I recommend a kind approach.

7. Set boundaries. Let people know if they have gone too far. If they post something on your profile, post an unflattering picture of you or whatever, let them know you would prefer they stop the behavior. Of course, you want to follow rules 3 and 6 when doing this. If you don't set boundaries, you may find yourself in a situation that is out of hand.

8. Grammar is still important. It is an indication of your education and professional life. Enough said.

9. Avoid embarrassing incidents. What happens in your offline world can often end up online before you know it, sometimes within minutes. A video of you dancing on the table at the last department 'party' can end up on YouTube for a worldwide audience.

10. Limit access to your profile - protect your privacy. On some networks, you can limit access to certain information on your profile to certain groups. One way I do this is to setup a group in Facebook for my students to join. This way, they can contact me but they don't have to be my ‘friend.’ This limits what I can see on their profile and what they can see of mine.

11. Finally, dealing with negative relationships. Negative relationships come in all forms: hostile people, divorces, estranged relatives, relationships that bring you down or diminish your credibility or people engaged in inappropriate behavior. There are a number of ways to deal with these negative relationships. Listed below from the least to most drastic solutions.

1. Limit access to your account. Place the 'friend' in a group that has less access to your information. This can be done in Facebook using groups.

2. ‘De-friend’ or disconnect from the offending person. This means they could potentially attempt to reconnect and they may still be able to see public information you let 'everyone' see.

3. Block specific users. This takes the ‘de-friend’ to a new level. It blocks them from seeing your public information.

4. Delete your account. This is the most severe online solution and all of your other relationships suffer. This is like committing online suicide. My uncle did this after he broke up with his girlfriend. Now, he wants me to email him all of the pictures I post on Facebook. All of his other relationships suffer when he had to do was block the ex and block, de-friend or limit access to mutual friends.

5. Finally, if the online relationship turns into a threat offline, report to authorities or contact police. Cyber stalking, threats of violence and death threats can originate online. Protect yourself from online predators.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of how to interact online. My hope is it will give you some ideas of how you can protect your online identity and privacy. Feel free to pass this article on to students if you think it will be a benefit to them.

What incidents have you had online and how did you handle them? <>


# SupervisorGuest 2010-06-30 21:45
the topic of internet netiguette seems to have gotten lost to so many of the upcoming generations. the lack of reality often times makes them feel invinceable -- too bad it comes back at them later when apply for work.
Thanks for the tips.
# Security GuyGuest 2010-09-08 16:58

You are absolutely right. Maybe students need a netiquette course.