Facebook Privacy – Keeping the Creepers Away

Did you know that by default, anyone on Facebook (800,000,000 + people) and the rest of the internet has access to your child’s posts, pictures, likes, tags, and locations?  That’s the bad news.  The good news is that Facebook has gotten in hot water so many times over it’s privacy settings that it is now actually pretty easy for your kids to tighten down their Facebook security to more appropriate (read: “wise”) levels.  In this post I’m going to explain how Facebook privacy settings work and how they can be adjusted.  Your goal as a parent here is to become proficient at using these settings so you can set some boundaries and teach your kids how to make good decisions on what they share and with whom.

But first, a warning: this post is boring.  This point was adamantly made by my editor/wife when she proofed this post.  I’ll now take her advice and tell you why you should push through this dry how-to blog.  This past September, the Telegraph (a UK newspaper) reported a story about a 23 year old teacher who used Facebook to steal pictures of some babies and then convince her ex-boyfriend that she had had his twin children.  She told him that one of them died and that she had moved to Australia with the other.  None of this information was true, but she wanted to torment him, and she snatched some poorly protected Facebook pictures to convince him of the veracity of her claims.  Psychotic?  Yes.  Preventable?  Also yes.

I’m not a dooms-day kind of guy, but it’s worth pointing out that if you don’t master Facebook privacy settings, it’s possible for strangers to see what your kids look like, find their cellphone numbers, their address, where they go to school, what they’re into, who they hang out with, when and where they’re on vacation, and literally follow your kids around by watching their check-ins.  While I hope that never happens to your kids, you can help protect them by teaching them about the wise use of privacy settings.  That’s why you should read this boring article.  With that in mind, let’s jump in.

  • Each post, photo upload, check-in, etc. can be adjusted to determine who has access to it.  There are a few things you should know about this feature.  First, Facebook remembers the last-used setting, so if your child makes a public post (which is accessible by everyone) about their favorite Sonic drink, the next time they decide to check-in at the local movie theater, Facebook will automatically make that post public as well unless your child manually changes the setting.  It’s important to teach your kids wisdom in what they share and with whom.  My personal recommendation is to choose the “custom” option and make all posts visible to no more than “friends-of-friends.”  If that still seems too transparent for you, then stick with the “friends” setting.  The other thing you need to know about this feature is that by using the “custom” option, your kids can choose who not to share their statuses with.  If they want to check-in at that party you strictly forbade them from attending, they can limit you from seeing it.  See step #3 from my last post.
  • Your kids can also choose what profile information to share and with whom.  This is important because, while your kids may want to share their cellphone number, email address, and age with their friends on Facebook, you don’t want the whole world having access to that info.  Just as with statuses, your kids can decide who can see each individual piece of information.  Help them make good decisions in this area by explaining why it’s a bad idea for strangers to have certain information, and then set rules or guidelines about who can see what.  Again, I’m comfortable with friends-of-friends accessing most of my info, but that’s probably not wise for information like cellphone numbers when your kids are involved. 
  • Not all Facebook apps have built in privacy options.  For this reason, it’s important for your kids to edit their default privacy settings.  This will let them choose who see the posts they make from apps that don’t allow them to customize their audience.  You can access this menu in Facebook by clicking the drop-down arrow next to the word “Home” on your Facebook screen and selecting “Privacy Settings,” or you can just click here.
  • To wrap up, I want to make special note of the Facebook feature that allows other people to tag your kids when they check in somewhere.  Let’s say your child goes to the mall for the afternoon with her friend.  You have taught her well and established healthy boundaries, and she knows to limit her check-in privacy settings so only her friends can see where she is.  That’s great!  Some of her friends may see her check-in and decide to join her at the mall.  Her friend, however, is not so prudent.  This friend has made her check-ins public.  If she tags your child in her check-in, your daughter’s location is now visible to the world even though your daughter’s settings are set to “Friends.”  This function is designed to make Facebook more social (and also to compete with sites like FourSquare), but I think it’s wise to be wary of location tagging where minors are involved.  For this reason, I recommend having your kids set up their privacy settings so that other people cannot tag them in check-ins.  You can do this by clicking the link above, selecting “Edit Settings” in the “How Tags Work” section, and then turning “Friends can check you into places” to “off.” 

Familiarizing yourself with these settings and teaching your kids to take advantage of Facebook’s very customizable privacy settings will help protect their privacy and, possibly, their safety as well.

I’m curious to know your thoughts on Facebook and Internet privacy.  Are these settings important for you and your kids, or should we stop worrying about privacy in a social-network-driven society?  Do you think these settings go far enough, or should your kids be even more careful about what they tell Facebook and who can see it?  Leave your thoughts in the comments box below.

All of this information (and most of the pictures) are provided by Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/about/privacy/your-info-on-fb

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