HOW IT WORKS:
It seems like everyone is doing it these days...”Social Networking” or “SN”. General sites such as MySpace, FaceBook, Linkedin, Ning, Twitter, Friendster, Tumblr, Habbo, Qzone, Vkontakte, Bebo, hi5, Orkut and a whole group of other online niche communities revolving around hobbies (wine, cigars), sports (horse racing, fishing, lacrosse), health, pets, child raising, religion and politics to name just a few. More: Athlinks (athletes), Cyloop (musicians), CafeMom (new mothers), ComicSpace, Untapped (beer connoisseurs), Wiser (environmentalists), My Last Wish (Bucket Lists), Dogster/Catster, Care2 (social philanthropists). And it’s not just for women: There are lots of sites catering to men’s interests like Dudepins, Manteresting, PunchPin, Gentlemint and Dartitup.
The mechanics of each SN site are essentially the same: Once you sign up, you create a custom profile (information about yourself) and start typing and posting pictures and links onto your home page. You can add friends to your group and accept the invitation of others to become friends to their identity.
However, you should also give some further thought to the following factors:
WHY YOU SHOULD JOIN
1. Before joining a SN site, think about why you’re joining. Many sites have specific purposes. For example, aside from the very specific communities discussed above, some general sites may specialize in locating relatives or classmates, others may be more suited to professional communications or looking for employment, or perhaps are useful as a dating service. Think about why you’re joining before signing up. Just like you wouldn’t join a golf community if you don’t intend to play golf, you shouldn’t join a site geared toward pairing up singles if you aren’t interested. FaceBook is great for sharing news, photos and videos with people who might care, like family and close friends. MySpace consists of mostly a teen and pre-teen crowd, heavily focused on pop music and do-it-yourself page designs. Linkedin is geared more toward the professional set, establishing a network of current and former business colleagues. Also, if you’re going to post the minutia of your life several times a day, Twitter might be more appropriate than FaceBook, because short microblogs would be perfect for Twitter, but might overwhelm your FaceBook friends and relatives to the point where they might tune you out. [Using a pseudonym (another name) doesn’t seem to suit SN, since the point is to create a group of friends that get to know you, not some creation.] FourSquare and other locational services such as Groupon are more useful for finding deals in your immediate proximity. Besides, it’s a violation of most sites’ terms and conditions.
And, of course, it’s your choice to share with the world your purchasing habits (Blippy.com (your purchases and locations (now defunct)); Facebook "Open Graph" which promotes user sharing of everything you do online automatically by default. Among the activities Facebook wants you to share: Your travel plans, what you're eating, what you're cooking, what you're drinking (thanks to a wine app), what you're buying, the videos you're watching, the books you're reading, your location and more; Nike FuelBand (your physical activity); Fitbit Aria (your weight shown on your scale); You get the idea. [More about whether this is good or bad under the Privacy page.]
WHO IS ON IT:
2. If you know why you have joined a SN site, you should still seek to get a good idea of who your audience is. While you’ll never personally know something about everyone in your circle, you should at least have a good idea about your immediate smaller circle of friends, so that your communications are meaningful to them and aren’t offensive. Good advice is to start slowly with your family and close friends, then pick your friends carefully after that. Make sure you learn something about your “friend” before meeting personally. Take the case of the Belgian supermarket manager who struck up a friendship, later a date, with a woman called Katrien Van Loo on Facebook. When he showed up for a dinner date at her apartment, he was met by two men who overpowered him, bound and gagged him, then stole his keys and robbed the safe in his supermarket. We all know people who advertise that they have literally thousands of “friends” as if this somehow validates their popularity (thank you Ashton Kutcher and Charlie Sheen; Kutcher was, on 4/16/09, the first twitter user to get more than one million followers). If you’re one of those people, I can’t help you. Still, it may be useful if you’re a politician or movie star. Even worse, from a privacy point of view, are those people who take Tweets one step further: they “Blip” (on Blippy.com (no longer around); see also FourSquare.com and Gowalla.com), which automatically posts the details of their credit card purchases with their friends (e.g. Joe spent $47.60 at Macy's for Jockey shorts”). Apparently, this shows their friends that they drink coffee at Starbucks or buy computers at Best Buy. Also, Alfred, which suggests similar places in your favorite geographic locations. Sounds dangerous, this kind of “sharing” but I can visualize a certain generation of people doing this.
3. You also should probably not mix your personal and business information on the same SN site. Jokes, games and other comments that might be appropriate for your buddies might offend your family. Ribbing from your siblings might be read by your office mates and come back to haunt you. You might not be projecting the image to either group that you want following you in that group.
WHAT TO WRITE OR NOT WRITE:
4. SN is pretty much a form of written communication, so it goes without saying that you have to be careful about what you write (called a “post”). According to a 2009 study by Internet security firm Proofpoint, 8% of companies with more than 1,000 employees have fired someone for social media actions. That’s a lot, and the number of firings is increasing each year.
Ask Gilbert Gottfreid, the voice of the Aflac duck, who got sacked (“gottfired”) in 2011 for posting jokes considered by Aflac to be inappropriate on his Twitter feed after the Tsunami in Japan. Or, almost simultaneously, when an employee of New Media Strategies, Chrysler’s ad agency was dismissed for posting a comment joking that “it’s ironic that Detroit is the motor city yet no one here knows how to #?#!! drive.” Even Charlie (“I’m just high on Charlie”) Sheen killed his show, if not his career, due in some part to his YouTube and Twitter postings.
Of course, you don’t want to be truly stupid and write on your FaceBook page threatening to detonate pipe bombs on the D.C. subway system as did Awais Younis, who then managed to get himself federally indicted in January 2010 for interstate communication of a threat. That’s obvious. [He was sentenced in March, 2011 to time served plus 2 years supervised release.]
But if your twitters or blogs mention certain people or companies (particularly if they’re your employer), especially in a negative context, you may also expect repercussions from your comments. You should be aware that these days, many companies have explicit policies regarding employees’ discussion of their employer or their job and that they also employ sophisticated software sniffing the Internet for intellectual property and individual information, right down to your personal posts. Companies like Websense, Barracuda Networks, TNS Cymphony, QuantCast, BlueKai, Media6Degrees and Cyveillance provide services for this purpose. RightNow’s Cloud Monitor and Salesforce.com are offering cloud monitoring specifically for Twitter and YouTube. Dis your employer and you can expect to get fired...or worse. Take the following examples: The 16 yr. old British girl (Kimberly Swann) who in 2009 was fired for complaining on FaceBook, “I’m so totally bored!!” Or Stacy Snyder, denied her teaching degree because of a posted photo on MySpace showing her wearing a pirate hat and drinking from a plastic cup. Get the point? On the other hand, the November, 2010 NLRB complaint against American Medical Response of Connecticut upheld an employee’s (Dawnmarie Souza) right to talk negatively about supervisors or working conditions (she called her boss a “dick” and a “scumbag”), despite company regulations to the contrary, finding it to be “protected speech” whether at the water cooler or on Facebook. AMR, in countering, said there was much more to her behavior that got her fired. [But it can’t be negative personal comments about a supervisor’s sexuality, for example.] The case settled in February, 2011 without public ruling. How about Ashley Johnson, the 22-year old waitress in North Carolina who was fired in 2010 for calling a customer “a cheap bastard”. One of the larger firings came from Virgin Atlantic in 2008, which fired 13 employees over a FaceBook chat. Then there’s New England Patriot’s cheerleader Caitlin Davis, 18, who in 2008 was cut from the squad over controversial photos from a Halloween party where she posed with a passed-out man covered with graffiti, including swastikas, anti-Semitic remarks and profanity. Continuing the sports references, Dan Leone, a stadium operations employee for the Philadelphia Eagles was fired in 2009 for writing “Dan is *** devastated about Dawking signing with Denver...Dam Eagles R Retarded!” Even the mascots got in on the act: In June, 2010, 24 year old Andrew Kurtz, a Pittsburgh Pirates mascot was fired after posting a derogatory comment about the team’s choice to extend the contracts of two of its managers. For some reason, nurses seem to get in trouble a lot: in April, 2009, a Minnesota nursing home employee was fired after rumors spread that she had been posting nude photos of herself with nude patients on her Facebook page. None were found, but she was nevertheless fired. In June, 2010, five employees at the Tri-City Medical Center in San Diego were fired after they were discovered discussing patients on Facebook in violation of privacy laws. You also might not want to advertise for a hit man, like Gloria Gadsden, a professor at East Stradsbourg University in Pennsylvania, who posted a three-minute long video on Facebook stating “Does anyone know where I can find a very discrete hit man? It’s been that kind of day.” You might not want to admit to any addictions, either. In May, 2010, Dana Kuchler, a veteran (21 yr.) police dispatcher for West Allis, Wisconsin, was fired (punishment later reduced to a 30 day suspension) after posting that she was “addicted to vicodin, adderall, quality marijuana, MD 20/20 grape and absinthe” on her Facebook page. Humor won’t protect you, either. Take the case of South Carolina firefighter and paramedic Jason Brown, who in February, 2011 was fired for creating a three minute video (LINK) posted on Facebook, showing a cartoon doctor and paramedic responding to an emergency in a hospital. Don’t get caught calling in sick, either: In April, 2009, a Swiss woman called in sick with a migraine, saying the light from her computer screen would severely bother her. She was fired after she apparently could sit in front of a computer screen, as she was well enough to post on FaceBook that day. And it’s undecided whether the Facebook Like button is protected speech, although a court in Virginia upheld the firing of Sheriff’s employees, one of whom clicked the Like button on the page of the Sheriff’s political opponent, on the ground that the button was not protected free speech. Ashley Payne, a high school teacher in Georgia, was fired in August, 2009 after she posted photos on Facebook showing her sipping beer and wine while she was on vacation and was visiting a brewery in Ireland. (She appealed this one.) More recently, don’t forget the mid-2013 faux pas of Justin Carter who posted (sarcastically) on Facebook that he was going to “shoot up a kindergarten”. He was only commenting on a League of Legends game, but it still got him arrested. For more employment faux see below at #11. Finally, the wrong post can possibly get you killed: Beware ex-spouses and dating partners - Example: On December 7, 2013, Gus Bennett (21) updated his Facebook profile, announcing he was in a fabulous relationship with China Barber, both of Alabama. Three days later, Barber’s estranged husband, Robert J. Sprinkle (23) killed both of them and himself over jealousy. For more dire results ending in death, see Marcel Datcu, below. Employers, as well, have joined the internet age: A girl in Mansfield, Texas, was fired publicly on Twitter, for a tweet she wrote before starting her job. The girl, known by her Twitter handle @Cella, wrote on Feb. 6, 2015: "Eww I start this [f$#% a*%] job tomorrow," followed by seven "thumbs down" emojis. When another employee tipped off the would-be boss that social media was abuzz with his new hire's misgivings, he logged onto his seldom-used Twitter account to say: "No you don't start that FA job today! I just fired you! Good luck with your no money, no job life!" And the height of bad “periscoping” comes from Whitney Beal, the 23 year old who in October, 2015 streamed her drunk car ride through Lakeland, Florida, with narrative (“I’m $%#^ drunk, this is terrible...let’s see if I get a DUI”) until the Police picked her up. In 2016, a 29 year old California woman, Michelle Suzanne Hadley, posed online as the wife of her ex-boyfriend (some with actual photos of her) and responded to Craigslist ads about “rape fantasies,” an act that eventually led to a physical attack at the victim’s home. She even sent men on the site information about the woman’s daily routing, directly resulting in her attack.
Of course no one beats the damage resulting from alleged posting of drug cartel denunciations in Mexico. In September, 2011, a man and a woman, both in their 20s, were found hanging from a pedestrian bridge in Mexico near Laredo, TX (not an uncommon cartel punishment), brutally mangled, next to a sign declaring that they were killed for posting denouncements of drug cartel activities on their (Mexican) social network.
Twitter and selfie blunders abound: The most famous example would have to be that of Congressman Anthony Weiner, forced to resign after sending partially nude photos of his genitals to many women. And the now famous semi-nude Tweet by Geraldo Rivera in 2012 with the caption “70 is the new 50!” Also the “I’ve got no shame in my game” (Judge Wade McCree from Detroit) admitting sexting to a string of women. But in less extreme cases, Kendra Holliday dismissed as a part time worker at a St. Louis non-profit for her blog sharing intimate details about her life; an intern at Marc Jacobs dismissed for tweeting how he hated his job and that CEO Robert Duffy was a tyrant; damage to Meg Whitman’s gubernatorial campaign caused by a staffer tweeted the incorrect link to a political endorsement, but which (because of a one letter difference in the URL) directed people to the site of a cross-dressing Japanese man named H.J. Freaks playing the guitar; Gene Morphis dumped as CFO of women’s clothing retailer Francesca’s Holdings for improperly communicating company information through social media; Ft. Lauderdale police officer Luis Pagan ending his career after tweeting that parents were negligent (“deal with your own f--king kids”), welfare recipients and teenage lovers, as well as calling his boss “a racist f--k”; Three staffers of Representative Rick Larsen (D-Wash) who bragged in tweets about sneaking shots of Jack Daniels crouching behind a desk and mocking their boss for being an “idiot boss” and a “selfish a--hole”. And Greek triple jumper Paraskevi Papachristou was banned from the London Olympics and suspended from Greece’s olympic team in July, 2012 for an offensive post on Twitter (“With so many Africans in Greece… the West Nile mosquitoes will at least eat homemade food!!!”). And political damage can be quickly created: Tweets like the one by the AP in April 2013 that claimed there had been explosions at the White House and that the President was hurt, which was up for only a few minutes, yet caused the stock market to drop some 143 points before its retraction a couple of days later, or the Egyptian government’s creating diplomatic tensions by shutting down Egyptian social networks, including the Twitter feeds of Bassem Youssef (the “Israeli Jon Stewart”).
Even worse, so-clled “shaming” tweets quickly go viral and can end your work life and damage your personal reputation. Examples: In December, 2013 Justine Sacco, a 30 year old senior director of corporate communications at IAC, spent her trip from NY to S. Africa, shame tweeting about her passengers (get deodorant, bad teeth, hope I don’t get AIDS (but white people don’t), etc.) and, by the time she landed, had received tens of thousands of angry tweets and lost her job. She eventually ended up at a new job in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Still, when she returned, people noticed and tweeted about it! [The re-tweet by Sam Biddle, editor of Gawker Media, to his 15,000 followers certainly didn’t help.] And 32 year old Lindsey Stone, who posed for photographs in front of signs, pretending to scream before a sign at Arlington National Cemetery asking for “Silence & Respect,” or smoking in front of No Smoking signs. Others didn’t see it as a joke and was subjected to a “Fire Lindsey Stone” Facebook page, lost her job, and barely left her home, suffering from PTSD, depression and insomnia. Not quite as bad as Alicia Ann Lynch, 22, from Michigan, who posted a photo of herself in a Halloween costume dressed as a Boston Marathon victim in track suit with bloody limbs. After a real victim tweeted at her that she lost both legs and her mother almost died, Lynch and her friends received threatening messages and was also reportedly let go from her job as well. And the wrath of the crowd can cut both ways: A woman named Adria Richards took a photo of a man behind her in a developers conference in Santa Clara, CA who made a crack to his friend about the comparative size of “dongles”. After tweeting her 9,209 followers, the man was taken into a room at the conference and unceremoniously fired two days later. Afterwards, he posted his situation on Hacker News, an online forum popular with developers, and this led to a severe backlash against her. She was bombarded with death threats on Twitter and Facebook and her home address was posted along with a photo of a beheaded woman with duct tape over her mouth. Fearing for her life, she left her home and slept on couches for the remainder of the year. A DDOS attack was launched against her employer’s (SendGrid) website and the employer was told that the attacks would only stop if Richards was fired. The next day she was publicly let go. And this is hard to believe, but a Twitter, Vine, Snapchat and Instagram rapper named Jack Johnson tweeted his nearly 4 million followers in July, 2016 to send him their passwords and within an hour tens of thousands complied. Not sure what he’s going to do with all of them, and why teens don’t realize that the whole point of a password is for security against others getting into their accounts. Seems like another case of teens posting everything on their social media, oblivious to the real world consequences. The kids think it’s cute and love to receive personalized messages from their crushes. And posting can work both ways: In July, 2016, Nia Green posted a photo on Facebook of her boyfriend in a towel at the family home along with racy descriptions of their relationship, which was discovered by her mother Shanavia Miller, who then posted a live video of her beating her daughter for her offense (she didn’t know her daughter was sexually active) on FaceBook Live. She reasoned that the video posting was the appropriate place to reply to the original post by Nia. Despite some public outcry, no charges were filed.
Of course, even e-mails without photos, a la David Petraeus, can destroy your career just as easily, as did e-mails between his women Jill Kelley and Paula Broadwell. [If the head of the CIA couldn’t keep his online activities secret, what hope is there for the rest of us?!] In July, 2015, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott was haunted by a four-year old Tweet from before he was elected Prime Minister about how his own government “was in chaos” and had “lost its way”. Even President Obama was taken to task by Hulk Hogan in July, 2015 about how the Pres could use the “N” word in his podcast while The Hulk was stripped for his use of the same word in an Esquire article. (Of course, there were quite different contexts, but this still demonstrates the power of online publishing, even an old one.) And how many times you text or Tweet someone can get you in trouble as well. In September, 2014 a 33 year old Frenchman was sentenced to four months in jail and a $1300 fine for texting and calling his ex-girlfriend 21,807 times over a 10 month stretch, certainly an example of excessiveness. A 2012 Facebook survey showed that 2000 people believed that the line of unfaithfulness begins when people are sending e-mails and texts without their partner’s knowledge (47%) and not at having sex (only 20%). Kissing (13%), hugging (1%) and flirting (11%) counted even less.
Moreover, once you post anything, it can’t be taken back. With search engines keeping “caches” of changed or deleted pages, Facebook retaining pokes, shadow profiles, tags, deleted postings and messages (including chat messages) virtually forever, and computers being able to copy and store pages, nothing “deleted” from the Web it every truly gone. In 2012, ARS Technica found that even three years later, photos tagged for removal hadn’t been "deleted" from Facebook. If you have a direct link to the image file on Facebook's servers, they’re still there. Facebook claims that on older legacy systems they’re having problems with deletions, but not with the newer software versions. Do you trust that? These things may come to haunt you when you look for another job or seek acceptance for some other position (e.g. on your homeowners association or local baseball team, cheerleading squad or charity) and can follow you around forever. Take the case of the well-known Canadian psychotherapist Andrew Feldmar, 66, who was recently permanently denied entry to the U.S. because of an article he wrote in a journal describing his experiment with LSD over thirty years before. So think first, post later. Why do I post so many of these examples? ‘Cause so many people don’t believe me. I’ve created my own acronym for this - IWHTM. It means It Won’t Happen To Me. I have no doubt that those real people discussed above felt IWHTM, just as most tweeting, texting and Facebook obsessed people today do. It can happen to you!
According to a recent survey of 2,300 adults about social networking, the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 12 percent said they had shared information on line that they later regretted posting. And, just because your boss or prospective boss may seem too old to be part of the FaceBook crowd, don’t dismiss him or her reading your page, as many hire college-age people to befriend potential hires or employees to check them out. Oversharing on FaceBook has become so rampant that there’s even a FaceBook group, Fired Because of FaceBook, devoted to this phenomenon. Also, the phrase “dooced,” which has come to mean “getting fired for something you’ve written on a website” and which originated when Heather B. Armstrong from Salt Lake City, who wrote a blog under dooce.com (she says the name came about when she had trouble quickly spelling “dude” when texting), was fired in February, 2001 after writing stories on her blog which included people in her workplace. How much of this is illegal? See LAWS for an in-depth discussion of various laws covering computers. Generally, though, it’s a matter of whether a line (which can shift) has been crossed. Whether a text or tweet or post violates, say, pornography laws or cyberstalking laws depends on whether that line has been crossed.
5. It also goes without saying that you can be subject to legal liability, either jail time, fines or civil penalties, for violation of any number of criminal or civil laws. Consider: On March 16, 2012 Rutgers University student Dhuran Ravi was convicted by a Middlesex, N.J. jury on 15 charges of hate crimes (including bias intimidation, invasion of privacy, witness and evidence tampering and other offenses) stemming from a webcam video which he surreptitiously posted on the Internet of a gay encounter between his roommate (Tyler Clementi) and another man, as well as Ravi’s follow up Twitter comments. The direct result of this action led to Clementi’s immediate suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge. Further charges were not presented against Ms. Molly Wei, who was also involved, probably because she became a witness for Ravi’s prosecution. Both students withdrew from Rutgers following the incident. This incident resulted in N.J.’s anti-bullying law (see LAWS), the strongest in the nation. Ravi received a 30 day sentence, far less than the 5-10 years recommended by state sentencing guidelines; still, he served only 20 days and was not deported, which was also recommended. In another case, U.S. nurse William Melchert-Dinkel was convicted of persuading a British man (Mark Drybrough) and Canadian woman (Nadia Kajouji) to commit suicide through communications over the Internet. Finally, there’s the worst case scenario: Be careful what you do in foreign countries...On February 1, 2012, the Iranian Supreme Court confirmed the death sentence for computer programmer Saeed Malekpour, whose photography program was used without his knowledge to upload pornography to the Internet, a real no-no in the Muslim countries. And, more recently, the case of two Florida girls, aged 12 (Katelyn Roman) and 14 (Guadalupe Shaw) who bullied another 12 year old (Rebecca Ann Sedwick) causing her to leap off a building and kill herself, compounded by the older girl’s tweets showing happiness and lack of remorse over her death (“IDGAF!”). In a shocking ruling, Jose Baez (you remember him, Casey Anthony’s lawyer) got the judge to dismiss the case. But before you get too happy, realize that it’s now open season for cyberbullying in Florida. But, as this becomes more prevalent across the country, various states are enacting cyberbullying laws. (See LAWS)
6. Equally important is not just what you post, but what your friends post as well. Their posts may be embarrassing to you or create unforeseen problems, even if not intentional. The same is true of your posts on their sites. Remember, posts or photos can be seen by everyone on your site and also be seen through “tags” that your friends put on their sites back to yours. Don’t put anything on there that you wouldn’t want your mom, or boss or minister to see. I won’t even dare comment on the negativity of posting marital, family or friendship arguments on line in order to see how your friends judge your debate. While such score-settling is great viewing on the (short-lived 2010 Jerry Seinfeld show) “The Marriage Ref,” it generally divides people and leads your friends to distance themselves. Such sites as LameBook attest to people’s interest in watching on-line spats, but in real life most of us want to steer clear of fighting couples.
7. Pictures and photos can be so much more damaging than text. For the worst instances, see Sextortion, below. Most sites allow you to share photos, pictures, videos and links, but that doesn’t mean that you should. Any photos of you (“selfies”) or anyone else you know that may be in any way compromising (your drunk brother riding the mechanical bull at the bar where he was supposed to be on a “business” trip) or offensive (any state of undress) should be absolutely off limits. That “joke” photo you post may not look so funny when your boss or friend’s wife sees it, and you could very easily damage friendships, marriages (that “I never liked her anyway” comment might not bode well for you if they get back together, for example) or employment (photos of the office Christmas party that show your boss “with” his secretary). And you should never post photos of others without their express permission. And consider this: When you’re posting photos taken with a GPS enabled smart phone or camera device using such services as Twitter, Foursquare or Gowalla with your mobile device, you should be aware that specific information such as your location [by precise latitude and longitude], type of camera, camera settings and other information can be revealed through the “geotags” embedded in your photos. This information isn’t visible on the photo, but it is embedded as encoded meta-data within the photo itself. Just ask Adam Savage, host of the popular science program “MythBusters,” who should have known better when he posted a photo on Twitter of his automobile parked in front of his house, which let viewers know that he drove a Toyota Land Cruiser and showed a photo of his house and its exact location. Even more, the caption “Now it’s off to work...” let potential thieves or intruders know that he would not be at home. For that matter, in September, 2010, police in New Hampshire have arrested a group of men suspected of being part of a burglary ring that targeted FaceBook users who had reported that they were away from home. Can you say “too much information”? It takes a little work to disable the geotag feature, but if you value your privacy generally or don’t want to be found specifically, you should remember to do this. [Click HERE to learn how. Click HERE for a free Windows app (GeoSetter) which allows you to edit the geodata in image files.] It’s not just photos - games, mobile browsers and even screen savers report back data. “Location tracking” is big business, whether it’s for advertising or stealth on the part of governments and criminals. Common SS7 tracking systems coupled with IMSI catchers (“StingRay”) can track your movements to the foot. And it’s not just your location. Sometimes, it’s your address book and browser history. On iOS and Android phones, you can turn off AdSense and AdMob behavior tracking in Google's apps settings. (For example, on iOS devices, look for Ad Preferences and work through the various screens.) To disable Apple's iAd behavior tracking on iOS 4 devices, type http://oo.apple.com in Safari's address window. You should get a notification that you've successfully opted out. And, for those of us who really do want everyone to know where we are, in August, 2010 FaceBook announced the creation of FaceBook Places, which lets your FaceBook friends know exactly where you are at any given time. Just don’t forget to turn it off if you want privacy.
The truly classic example of both sides of posting photos is the case of Axelle Despiegelaire, 17, a Belgian World Cup fan who was randomly photographed by TV cameras in July, 2014 cheering on her team in a match against Russia. The photo went viral and, as a result, cosmetics giant L’Oreal saw it and offered her a modeling contract, which she accepted. However, three days later, another photo of her with a rifle, standing over a dead oryx surfaced and the contract was then cancelled. The internet can give you fame, but can also take it away, but not usually at the same time.
2014 brought us the iCloud nude photo attack, where Jennifer Lawrence and others’ photos were posted on the internet for all to see (c’mon, why would anyone store nude photos of themselves in a public cloud, or anywhere, with the expectation that they are private? If you’re concerned, and you should be, then don’t share them except in person!) And the N. Korea attack on Sony over the “Interview” movie, where personal information was purloined by hackers.
8. Some topics are best left untouched. Just as you might not feel right discussing sex, politics or religion at a dinner with your family, clergy or boss, you should stay away from these topics on line. While you might not be running for nomination to the Supreme Court, the comments you make may be collected and available long after you have removed them from your site, and could cause damage to you or others. Discussions about things happening (or look like they’re happening) at work, comments about family or friends going through a break-up or divorce, or about legal or tax issues might not look so good after the event, and will live on long afterwards. Moreover, some things shouldn’t be done on line. Medvet, an Australian company which provides drug, paternity and other tests, was hacked in 2011, revealing confidential information I’ll bet their customers didn’t want publicized. You might want to take care of these things in person, and not give up your digital wallet so fast. I won’t even begin to discuss the Rupert Murdock News of the World phone hacking debacle, all over the news in July, 2011.
9. Don’t text in a moment of anger or when under the influence of alcohol or other proscribed substances. Also, if you’re suffering from a lack of sleep. Under such conditions, your emotions can often overpower your sense of reason, allowing you to post statements that you otherwise wouldn’t. Unfortunately, this is so common that Twitter has coined the terms “DWEET” (drunk Tweet) and MISTWEET (Tweet later regretted). Luckily, if you’re prone to such lapses in judgment, Google actually has a setting (“Mail Googles”) that asks you to solve a math problem before you can send e-mail late at night or on weekends. If you’re unsure, just wait for a little while and think about what you’re about to send.
10. Don’t be afraid to “unfriend” someone who may cause you trouble, or who you’re simply tired of. Most sites don’t even let the friend know that they’ve been unfriended by enabling a “hiding” feature. The average Facebook user has 338 friends, mostly unused contacts like people they met at a wedding or business conference. However, it’s a good idea to prune your friends list just like any other address book. In 2010, talk show host Jimmy Kimmel invented a “National Unfriend Day” (November 17th) as a good time to do this each year. He (correctly but tongue-in-cheek) suggests deleting such deadwood as old classmates, distant relatives, obnoxious co-workers, oversharers of kids, vacation pics, their fabulous lifestyle, exes, cat people and people you hardly ever contact. And, on the same topic, you should be familiar with all of the privacy settings on your site, using all of the options to craft your site so it’s acceptable to you.
EMPLOYMENT AND OTHER APPLICATIONS:
11. These days, businesses routinely screen employment applicants social networking accounts to see what their real feelings and opinions may be. Interestingly, Microsoft recently surveyed some 2500 Human Resources managers, recruitment professionals and consumers in 2009 to determine the effect of personal information published on-line with respect to employment opportunities. The results were astounding: While 70% of the HR and recruiters claim to have rejected employment based on information found on-line, only 7% of consumers believed that the personal details published on the Web had any impact on their job prospects! CNN reports that 78% of job recruiters check search engines for background on candidates and 63% check social media sites, too. And the Federal government has disclosed that it is now scanning Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media accounts of thousands of federal employees and contractors applying or re-applying for security clearances, as a matter of policy announced on May 13, 2016 by DNI James Clapper. He justifies the search of only publicly available on-line information (vs. password protected data) as part of the agencies” “whole person” approach to investigation. [Think: In May, 2016 the Secret Service investigated Donald Trump’s former butler over his racially explicit Facebook posts calling for President Obama to be killed.] And Congress is considering a bill to cover employment by any federal agency So, think first, post later...Just because you CAN express your thoughts doesn’t mean that you HAVE to! [If you’re an employer, you should be aware that the “nuclear option” of complete prohibition rarely works; much more useful is the education of employees, combined with security measures and monitoring of company data over public networks.] This shouldn’t be surprising, as a 2013 Pew Internet and American Life Project survey showed that only 9% of teens reported being “very concerned” about third parties accessing their data.
Other employment faux pas: The “Cisco Fatty” incident, where a graduate student who scored a paid internship at Cisco, then promptly tweeted that “Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute and hating the work”; The “Facebook Fairy” move, after Kevin Colvin, an intern at Anglo Irish Bank, claimed a family emergency on Halloween while his co-workers saw a time-stamped photo on Facebook showing him dressed as a fairy and holding a beer; The five employees of the National Hispanics of Buffalo who were fired after complaining on Facebook about their company (while they didn’t post from work, their speech is technically protected under labor law and this and another 13 terminations based on social media complaints were defended by the NLRB, requiring their reinstatement); the Walmart employee fired for posting remarks like “The Government needs to step in and set a limit on the kids people are allowed to have based on their income. If you can’t afford to feed them, you shouldn’t be allowed to have them!”; Inappropriate blogging about topics, even anonymously, such as your sex life, like former congressional staff assistant to Senator Mike DeWine Jessica Cutler who blogged about details of her sex life (as “The Washingtonienne”), including being paid in exchange for sex. She was outed, fired, sued by one of the men she mentioned and had to declare bankruptcy. Also, the Starbucks employee fired after posting a creative YouTube video of him singing criticisms of their customers, and an advertising exec named James Andrews who tweeted negative remarks about FedEx’s home town (Memphis) the day before meeting with them; A reporter fired from a newspaper after his mean spirited remarks to a PR professional and her reply tweets escalated over the Internet; Posting photos of your personal life as a teacher can be bad enough, but don’t compound it by making fun of a student’s haircut or calling students “germ bags” - it may get parents to demand dismissal. And the negativity can flow both ways - take the diner at an Applebee’s restaurant who in January, 2013 scribbled “I give God 10%, why do you get 18%” on her receipt”. When another waitress took a photo of the receipt and posted it on Reddit (adding that “I’m sure Jesus will pay for my rent and groceries”), the second waitress was fired and the customer (a pastor) received much negative publicity. And so it continues - you can see the trend.
Colleges: Apparently, applicants to colleges and other private schools don’t think that admissions officers should or do check on their Tweets or Facebook pages. They do, and what the applicant may say could derail their acceptance. Of the 381 college admissions officers who answered a Kaplan survey in 2013, 31% said they had visited an applicant’s Facebook of other personal social media page to learn more about them (a 5% increase from 2012) and 30% said they discovered information online which negatively affected the applicant’s prospects. And they’re wise to high-schoolers attempted schrewdness, like changing their searchable names on Facebook, maintaining two Facebook accounts, untagging themselves in pictures and the like, all to obscure their digital footprints during the college admissions process. They don’t have to disclose their investigation, even when it’s the reason for the non-acceptance.
12. Don’t click on links or respond to Tweets that you aren’t familiar with. This is how many viruses and spyware propagate. (See SPYWARE for more on this.) You may not even see the damage on your own computer, because it may be used to send out messages allegedly from you to others that contain viruses or spyware.
True examples: You may receive a Tweet from one of your friends, but it appears to offer a $500 Victoria’s Secret gift card (if you’ll just click), or ask you to watch your friend in an awesome new video in which they star (if you’ll just click) or help you to make more money or increase your IQ (if you’ll just click), or click to open “the sexiest video ever” on FaceBook or answer the question “Are You in This Picture” (if you’ll just click to see it). This means that the sender’s account has probably been seized by malware, unknowing victims of the infection. They probably clicked on one of these messages, continuing the chain of infection.
In fact, while you may not know who you’re dealing with, it may not even be a real person. In early 2013, it was discovered that Santiago Swallow, whose credentials included his own Wikipedia page of accomplishments, TED and SxSW speaker and author with over 80,000 Twitter followers, was a complete fiction. He was created by Kevin Ashton, who merely generated the name using Scrivener, obtained a gmail account for him, then a Twitter account (where he purchased some 90,000 followers at fiverr.com for $500), set up Facebook and Wikipedia accounts and took off from there. [The more things change, the more they are the same. This scenario is reminiscent of the M*A*S*H episode (1/14/73; Season 1, Episode 15) where Hawkeye and Trapper invent a fictional “Captain Tuttle” based on Hawkeye’s childhood friend who becomes so heroic that he has to be killed off and his back pay donated to orphans. This popular episode was actually a parady of Lieutenant Kije, the subject of a 1927 novella by Russian Yury Tynyanov (who in turn borrowed upon Vladimir Dahl’s short piece published in 1870), and was later made into a film in 1934 and even more famous for its suite of music by Sergei Prokofiev. So in 2013, history repeated itself, borrowing from 1973, 1927 and 1870. Human nature hasn’t changed, although the vehicle for perpetration of it’s nature has upgraded itself.]
Twitter has also been compromised by hackers as well. For example, on December 17, 2009, for the third time that year, Twitter was hacked by a group identifying itself as the “Iranian Cyber Army” which redirected Twitter users to a web page claiming responsibility for shutting down Twitter. This looked like mere “hactivism,” an attack with social or political motivation, but it could very well have been more malicious. It’s only a short step for those hackers to access your messages and use them for their own nefarious schemes, to your chagrin.
It’s not just Twitter. In August, 2009 FaceBook and YouTube were also compromised by hackers. And in early 2013, Facebook and Twitter were hacked. In almost all cases, the entry point was a member’s weak password, a threshold that must be addressed by hosts and users if this type of hacking is to be stopped. In June, 2012 business social networking site Linkedin was using an outdated form of cryptography (SHA-1) to secure users’ information resulting in 6.5 million leaked passwords were posted on a Russian online forum. Only hours later, eHarmony suffered a similar attack, with some 1.5 million users passwords compromised, probably by the same hackers.
While you should be concerned if your password is hacked, it is still important for your password to be strong, because it may still make it difficult to crack even if it is stolen. Most sites store “hashed” passwords, meaning that they are encoded by an algorithm. The hackers must still unravel them, if they can. See, Passwords for more information on this subject. And beware possible “post hack e-mails” which may contain phishing attempts either directly or through embedded links, often asking for you to change account information, either to get you to reveal personal data or to install malware on your machine. See Spyware.
13. Forget the old addage that “Sticks and stones can break your bones, but words can never hurt you”. No more. They can hurt and possibly kill you. Take, for example, the new and disturbing trend in “sextortion”. In this crime exclusive to the digital age, poseurs claim to be cute pre-teen boys in chat rooms and talk young girls into sending them lewd nude photos of themselves. Then they use those photos to extort even more photos and eventually even money for not releasing them publicly. This can have potentially deadly ramifications: The most famous case was that of Canadian Amanda Todd, 13, who in 2010 committed suicide over pics that she was extorted over via FaceBook. Her fame came from a YouTube video where she pleaded for help from the extortion, which went viral with 9 million views. Turns out she was extorted by Aydin Cobem, (Dutch, 35), who extorted dozens of other girls and men in the U.S., Canada, Britain and the Netherlands. This is on the rise: The Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force reports double growth in complaints between 2010 and 2013 (7,000). And your surfing habits aren’t off limits either. Not many people get this distraught, but in June, 2014, Marcel Datcu, 36, of Movils Miresii, Romania, received an official looking an e-mail claiming that PRISM had identified him as a child pornographer (since he admittedly visited a porn site) demanding that, unless he coughed up $21,000, he’d go to jail for 11 years. Of course, it was ransomware at its worst but, out of shame, he hung himself and his four year old son Nicusor in the family’s living room, leaving a suicide note for his wife. This stuff can hurt people. See also, posting of videos by people like Dhuran Ravi, #5, above, which led to suicide.
And, aside from the social implications, sexters can have serious legal consequences that can follow them for the rest of their lives. For example, in some the many states that have enacted anti-sexting laws (see LAWS), even consensual sexting between two minors can result in charges of child pornography and addition to a predator list, which could prevent one or both of the minors from acceptance to college or obtaining a job, presumably for the rest of their lives.
In 1990, a character in John Guare’s play (later a movie) “Six Degrees of Separation” claimed that “Everyone on this planet is separated by only six other people,” hence the play’s name. There is proven truth to this observation. Especially with the huge increase in social networking interaction. The average number of “friends” connecting you to any other random person is probably less than six these days, especially on Facebook and Twitter (FaceBook’s “friend requests” even state that “you have -- mutual friends”.) Interestingly, Guare took the idea for his play from experiments conducted by social scientist Stanley Milgram at Harvard University, who attempted to get letters to a Boston stockbroker by sending them to random people in Omaha, asking those who received the letter to forward it to anyone they knew who might be able to forward it to the final intended recipient. Of those letters that actually got there (many didn’t), an average of only six “hops” were required. A larger-scale repeat of the experiment using e-mail forwarding in 2003 by Peter Dodds, Roby Muhamad and Duncan Watts, produced the identical result, a “chain length” of between five and seven. In that study, 60,000 e-mail users attempted to reach one of eighteen target persons in 13 countries by forwarding messages to acquaintances. These and other studies supported the finding that successful social search no longer requires specialized “hubs” to succeed, but rather intermediate to weak “links” or “ties”. It’s a small world, after all. It might be good to keep this in mind and remember both sides of this coin when engaging in social networking.
I started writing this page back in 2009 as both an amusement and a warning. At that time few people believed my statements, so I provided them with concrete factual, sometimes humorous, examples. However, as social networking sites have gone from niche players with fewer members to mainstream powerhouses with a billion members (like Facebook) over the past few years, you must understand that you have to think before you post anything on the Internet. Every syllable you post will be copied, sliced, diced, digested, sorted and reused, often against you, by quants who work for huge companies (and let’s not forget the government) analyzing big data to track your profile (your location, habits, purchases and the like). And nothing you post will ever be lost, whether you are applying to coach a Little League team or for a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court. THE INTERNET IS FOREVER!