Facebook; Twitter; LinkedIn; Google+; Foursquare – there are literally countless social networking sites that range from general interest sites to those that focus on specific subjects or niche audiences.
Today people are able to connect and share information with people around the world.
To some, that concept is liberating, but to others, it’s alarming. For Monika Gillis sharing information is simply a part of every day life.
“You can type in someone’s name and it will show their last five addresses. With deductive reasoning you can find anyone. Everything is computerized so there’s information on you online whether you put it there or not. It’s kind of beyond our control now,” said Gillis.
Margaretha Geertsema-Sligh, associate professor of journalism at Butler University believes that although the Internet does have it’s place in society, people should still be cautious about what personal information they broadcast to millions of people on the web.
She said the Internet’s initial purpose was for military usage. However, today people are able to publish their own information without access to a big organization or filter, and they can do it instantaneously.
While there are advantages to getting out information, the Internet has opened the door to other issues such as privacy, online fraud, cyber-bullying and stalking.
“A good rule of thumb is if your mom wouldn’t approve of what you’re (posting online) don’t put up that information,” said Geertsema-Sligh.
Caution is necessary when posting personal information, but she said it boils down to common sense. For example, if you’re on Foursquare, a location-based social networking website, don’t post your location from your home.
There’s also the issue of protecting children’s information and image. Jessica Soto is very cautious with what she posts online, even among her “friends.”
“I try to post very little to no pictures of my kids. I’m paranoid. The people that really matter are already in my kids’ lives,” said Soto.
Although senior citizens rarely post personal information online and those aged 20 to 40 are choosy in what they post, youth’s viewpoint on posting personal information online is totally different.
“Some young people have grown up with (the Internet and social networking) and think they are very savvy, but they’re also naive,” said Geertsema-Sligh.
Unfortunately, kids having too much access to the web can open the door to sexual predators. According to the Crime Against Children Research Center, 1 in 5 kids has received unwanted sexual solicitations via the web, and 25 percent of kids who use the Internet say they have been exposed to unwanted pornographic material.
The Black and Missing Foundation suggests that parents become aware of warning signs that may indicate their child has been contacted by a sexual predator, including increased activity on the child’s phone or the Internet; receiving phone calls from adults you don’t know; or pornography on the child’s computer.
To help keep families safe, Geertsema-Sligh suggests people become educated on how to truly use the Internet and social media. She also suggests parents visit popular sites to stay connected to what their kids are in to.
Furthermore, parents should talk with their children and share with them what’s appropriate for the web.
Parents should also keep the computer in an open environment to further diminish the child’s opportunity for private chatting. Having blocked sites and safety hardware can also help.
Caretakers can be proactive in monitoring their children’s information online, but today’s youth use devices like smartphones to circumvent their parent’s watchful eye. Parents should review their child’s cell phone records – doing this will help monitor information that is sent or received.
Although there are helpful guidelines and tips to help protect people from the dangers of the web, Geertsema-Sligh said that as technology and access to information evolves, so will the quest to protect information.
“When TV came up in the 1940s, people were like ‘it’s a new media. We should be afraid.’ People are going to ask these questions and we will have to keep investigating and adjusting to what’s out there,” she said.