Facebook, Twitter, and other social media are great for keeping up to date with your friends and family, but it isn't always wise to post or share everything you think others would be interested in.
On your personal social media pages, you may find no harm in posting the occasional rant about a professor, fellow student, or co-worker that's ticking you off. After all, it's your page - and you have a constitutional right to freedom of expression. What you do on your page is your own free choice - and no one can tell you what to say or not say.
But with freedom comes responsibility, and if you're not careful, the things you publish can have serious consequences for you. In recent years, irresponsible postings on social media have got people fired from jobs, expelled from educational institutions, sued in courts, and even jailed.
On an even more sinister level, sharing certain types of information on social media can also expose you to frightening dangers - such as burglary, identity theft, stalking, rape, and even murder.
This doesn't mean you should abandon social media completely and never post anything to the Internet again. It simply means that you should remain vigilant about the dangers and threats associated with social media sharing.
Here are some common sense guidelines that can protect you against harm when sharing online:
- Follow the golden rule: If you're not comfortable having the whole world know about something, don't post it. Regardless of your privacy settings, some people may still be able to access content you've restricted.
- Remember that everything is permanent: Once you post something, consider it permanently published. Even if you delete it soon after, it will be stored in cache somewhere; and someone else may have already saved it too.
- Be cautious of predators: Don't post revealing photos, updates, or content that would make you a target of sexual predators and other criminals. And never share information that could endanger yourself or your possessions - such as details of your physical locations, your daily schedule, dates when you'll be going on holiday, and what security precautions you're taking.
- Protect sensitive information: Never reveal sensitive information regarding your finances or banking. Also never share the passwords you use, or information that could give clues to your passwords - such as your pet's name or date of birth. And never betray the confidentiality of others - whether they entrust information to you, or you're having conflicts with them.
- Pretend you're running for President: Things you write or show can come back to haunt you, so act like a politician and be careful of what you say. Don't share photographs of yourself in compromising positions, and never post extreme views related to race, religion, or politics. Also, don't publically air complaints or extreme views relating to your academic or professional career - such as your institution, job tasks, employer, employees, colleagues, rivals, or anyone in your professional life. If you're feeling particularly emotional, first take some time to settle down, and then post only if you're sure that there won't be negative repercussions later on.
So next time you're posting something to your social media profile, first consider whether it's really worth sharing or not. Stop, think, and stay safe.