Guest Author - Stephanie K. Ferguson
“R U online?”
Social networking sites (SNS) like Facebook and MySpace are common online destinations for teens. Sometimes called “friend-to-friend” sites, these Internet social networks focus on connecting people through others they already know. Currently, there are over 3000 SNSs available online, and the list is growing daily. The purpose of some of these networking sites is purely social – reconnecting with old friends, establishing romantic relationships. Others focus on initiating business connections or shared interests.
The features associated with SNSs can vary, but most include communication programming like chat rooms, email, instant messaging, and forums. Many SNS hinge on users providing some personal information in the form of a personal profile which is typically searchable by others in the network. In addition of text, many sites encourage the posting of images and video, a public list of friends, and general demographic data (age, gender, geographic location, interests, etc.).
Because SNSs rely on connections and foster communication, varying amounts of personal information are required. Since the Internet (1) provides a sense of anonymity and (2) intimates a false sense of security due to the lack of physical interaction, many users fail to exercise the cautions that they would normally when meeting someone in person for the first time. Although the majority of people interacting on SNSs do not have malicious intentions, the amount of personal information readily available on these sites may attract individuals who are seeking to take advantage of someone by preying on underage users. Using the information that is provided in networking profiles, malicious predators could attempt to impersonate a friend or someone in authority to gain access to personal identity/financial information.
Although many of these sites have age restrictions, adolescents are savvy enough to misrepresent their ages in order to be considered cool or part of the community. If your teen is a part of an online community, talk with him or her about the following protective measures and safeguards suggested by US-CERT (United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team, a division of the Department of Homeland Security):
~ Limit the amount of personal information posted either by you or your networked connections. The information available about you online should not be more than you would be comfortable telling someone that you are meeting for the first time in person.
~ Keep in mind that the Internet is a public domain. Blogs, forums, chat rooms, etc. may not allow items to be edited or removed once they are posted. So venting about an exact incident may provide just enough information for someone to locate you…and you won’t be able to retract it.
~ Be cautious. People in the “anonymity” of cyberspace may post false information or misrepresent themselves in order to advance their ulterior motives. Be wary of agreeing to meet someone F2F (face-to-face).
~ Be aware of privacy policies or lack thereof associated with the sites you frequent. Some sites share or even sell their users’ information to third parties which may increase the amount of unwanted spam email received.
For more information social networking sites go to:
350+ Social Networking Sites at
Wikipedia List of Social Networking Sites at
Social Meta Network (3489 searchable social networks worldwide) at