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Social Networking

Social networking websites function like an online community of internet users. Depending on the website in question, many of these online community members share a common interest. Most social network services are primarily web based and provide a collection of various ways for users to interact, such as chat, messaging, email, video, voice chat, file sharing, blogging, discussion groups, and so on. The online Social Networking phenonomen is particulary popualar amongst young people.

Websites such as LinkedIn, Google+ and Facebook (among others) are the most commonly used Social Networking websites and let users communicate with friends and, if you choose, strangers online and build networks linked by shared hobbies and interests.

How does it work?

In general, social networking services, such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+, allow users to create a profile for themselves. Users can upload a picture of themselves, fill in some basic details about themselves and can make ‘friends’ with other users. In most social networking services, both users must confirm that they are friends before they are linked. For example, if John lists Mary as a friend, then Mary would have to approve John's friend request before they are listed as friends. Social networks usually have privacy controls that allow the user to choose who can view their profile or contact them.

When you create a profile on a social-networking site, you literally put yourself on the social-networking map. You can use the site to:
• look up old friends or make new ones
• share music, photos and videos
• join groups based on interests such as politics, hobbies or favorite TV shows
• find jobs or just simply chat

What risk does it pose?

Social networking sites rely on connections and communication, so they encourage you to provide a certain amount of personal information. When deciding how much information to reveal, people may not exercise the same amount of caution as they would when meeting someone in person.

Social Networking websites have become increasingly popular with young people. As a result, the users of Social Networking sites may be exposed to risks they have always faced online but in a new forum. For example, online bullying, disclosure of private information, cyber-stalking, access to age-inappropriate content and, at the most extreme, online grooming and child abuse.

For adults, who are also using these sites in greater numbers, there are serious risks too. They include: loss of privacy and identity theft. Adults too can be victims of cyber-bullying and stalking.

What to do?

Be Discreet - Never type anything into a profile page, bulletin board, instant message or other type of online electronic form that would expose you to unwanted visitors or the possibility of identity theft or malicious threats. This includes personal and business names and addresses, phone numbers, job titles, birth dates, schedule details, daily routines and business or family information. It's far better to communicate in generalities than to reveal information that unscrupulous individuals may someday use against you.

Only post information you are comfortable with anyone seeing - This includes information in your profile and in blogs and other forums. Also, once you post information online, you can't retract it. Even if you remove the information from a site, saved or cached versions may still exist on other people's computers.

Be wary of strangers - The internet makes it easy for people to misrepresent their identities and motives. Consider limiting the people who are allowed to contact you on these sites. If you interact with people you do not know, be cautious about the amount of information you reveal. It is not recommended to meet them in person.

Be sceptical - Don't believe everything you read online. People may post false or misleading information about various topics, including their own identities. This is not necessarily done with malicious intent; it could be unintentional, a product of exaggeration, or a joke. Take appropriate precautions, though, and try to verify the authenticity of any information before taken any action.

Check privacy policies - Some sites may share information such as email addresses or user preferences with other companies.

Top Tips

Educate yourself about the site before you post any personal information. Evaluate the social networking Web site and read the privacy policy and code of conduct carefully. To avoid giving the site the e-mail addresses of your friends, do not allow the site to scan your e-mail address book.

Assume what you write on a social networking site is permanent. Even if you have the ability to delete your account, anyone on the Internet can easily print out the information or save it to a computer.

Consider using a site that doesn't post your information publicly. Some sites allow anyone to view the content you post on the site; others only allow members or nominated friends to view pages. If you want to help protect your information even further, use a site that allows you to protect your information and only give your friends access.

Use the Privacy Settings. Limit what information people, even your friends, can view.

Beware of con artists. Criminals scan social networking sites to find potential victims for all sorts of scams, from phony lotteries to bogus employment and business opportunities to investment fraud.

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