From friends posting compromising photos of you, to your boss reading a rude message social networking is rife with virtual bananas skins, but you can steer clear of them…
Both my boys were running temperatures; the bucket had been missed several times. I cracked and called, husband. He promised to walk through the door at 7pm, ready to take over. But by ten past, he was nowhere to be seen. I logged on Facebook. Update: ‘[Husband] has checked in at Slattery’s Pub-about 5 minutes ago vis Foursquare.’ Reader, I murdered him. Oh, alright, I didn’t really. Instead, I threw all my fury into a 140-character text message. In half am hour, he walked sheepishly through the door. Later, when we could laugh about it, he joked that had I not texted him, he would have continued to blithely and unknowingly update, me on his every movement. I nodded, adding that we could have become one of the one in five divorce petitions that cite Facebook. It was his turn to go plate.
Social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare) are more than a business tool. They give us a phenomenal ability to connect, to communicate-and to completely shoot ourselves in the foot. After this incident I discovered that there wasn’t much advice on the new dilemmas social media creates, so I started writing a column about it. In the past year I’ve fielded varied online tangles as a ‘social media agony aunt’ for an Irish newspaper. Here are the top four I’ve encountered…….
1. The boss
Some may have heard the story of the woman who posted rude things about her job and called her boss an “old letch” on Facebook -only to see a reply. From her boss. Telling her the ‘pointless’ things he asked her to do were her job, that he was, in fact, gay and that he would post her P45. The lesson? Avoiding colleagues online is trickier than dodging that after-work office drink. The social compartments we create to partition our real-world social life can collapse online with unpredictable consequences, making our private lives just a bit too public.
The Solution: When in doubt, leave it out. Vent to your friends when you are safely in the pub. Don’t share anything that someone might use against you. And try not to be friend anyone who might get you into trouble, though this can be awkward if someone asks, which leads us to….
The Better Solution: Use the ‘Friends List’ function on Facebook to segment your friends. Very simple and underused, it takes about 30 minutes to review your Facebook settings and make lists, such as ‘Family’, ‘Schoolfriends’ and ‘Colleagues’. Once made, you can then easily alter your privacy settings so that you have full control over who can read your updates or see your wall. Don’t want your boss as a friend on Facebook in any capacity? Connect with her on LinkedIn, the social network for professionals, a much more appropriate place to be in touch with colleagues.
2. The vulnerable teenager
Parents have become a lot more savvy about social media, but it’s still hard to balance trusting your kids and worrying about them getting in over their heads online. Facebook regulations state that children must be 13 to join, but you’re in a tricky situation if your 11-year-old claims every other child in their class has an account. One mother, Linda, got a phonecall from family members in a another country saying that when you Goggled her son’s name, X-rated comments he and his friends had been making on a teen chat site came up. When she sat down and showed them to him, he nearly died of embarrassment. Linda wanted to take his computer away.
The Solution: As anyone who has tried will know, there is no point in telling a teenager to stop, especially something as fundamental as socialising on Facebook. SO, be part of it. Getting your own account and linking up with your child-on her terms-is a great way to stay in touch with what’s going on in their world. Always be the go-to person if there’s a problem and don’t overreact. Ripping the computer out of the socket and throwing it in the pond will not stop our teenagers finding an internet connection. Instead, prepare your children to be safe, and talk to them about how what they type may not be as pirate as they think (two men were given four-year sentences for using Facebook to encourage rioting following this summer’s disturbances). Also get them to update you on who they’re talking to and make sure they know they can come to you if they need to.
3. The tagger
Facebook’s software prompts people to ‘tag’ friends in photos posted to the social network. Mary, an annoyed fortysomething, wrote: “Our daughter-in-law frequently posts unflattering photographs of us at family events, and tags them.” These can then be seen by all the tagged person’s friends. “Posting them without our permission is bad enough,” she added, “but trawling through dozens of pics where we’re shiny-faced or closed-eyed is embarrassing, especially as some old college acquaintances have befriended us too.”
The Solution: A couple of months ago, Facebook started allowing users to pre-approve tagged pictures. Go to Account, then Privacy Settings-How Tags Work and click Turn On Tag Review. You can also prevent tagged photos from showing up on your wall. Again in How Tags Work, click profile Visibility. Next to ‘Who can see photos and posts in which I am tagged on my profile?’ click Only Me. Or you can always simply de-tag yourself.
4. The dead friend
One man told me of his shock when Facebook sent him a ‘People you may know’ friend suggestion. The problem was, this friend had died two months earlier in a car crash. “When I clicked on his name, his page was still active and his last update was about going for some beers.” When social media seemed to be mostly young people, death wasn’t part of the plan. But as we get older and a wider variety of people join social media sites-the fastest-growing group on Facebook is women over 50-dealing with death will increasingly be a problem. When someone dies, it’s no longer only photographs that are left. A social media presence is unnervingly durable. Some people want it to go away; others want to maintain it as an online memorial.
The Solution: Facebook (and most social networks) take applications to have a deceased person’s account ‘memorialised.’ You will need proof in the form of an obituary, news article or death certificate. Then, only confirmed friends will have access to their profile. Only close family can have the site removed. Facebook will never restore that account information unless required by law.