by Lynette T. Owens
A couple of weeks ago, I decided to search my daughter’s name on Google. I was curious to see what the results might be for someone who has not yet established an online presence. I was amazed, worried, and amused all at once. She shared her namesake with the owner of an arts and crafts company, a dating service professional, and someone who spent 7 years in jail. Some of these people had profiles on MySpace, Twitter, Facebook. Some wanted to make the world a better place, others wanted the world to know everything about them.
I did the search after I read about the term ‘cybertwin’: someone who shares your name and possibly other characteristics like age, place of residence, or career, but is in fact not you. The article advised people to find out if you have any cybertwins so you can explain if you ever needed to.
My kids’ reputation, and that of anyone under 18, will be partly defined by what they do online. Managing their online personal information deftly and knowing how they might be perceived online is an important life skill. Kids should be given basic guidance on sharing personal information online, for their safety and their reputation. And perhaps some of the best advice comes from the generation that was born with the Internet already in their lives.
“On Facebook and other sites, I do not share significant personal information like my address,” says Aaron Schild, a senior at The Bishop’s School in La Jolla, CA and a volunteer at Teen-Senior Connect, a community-based volunteer high school group which assists seniors with computer and technology needs. “I set the privacy settings almost as high as possible to make sure that no one who doesn’t know me can find any of my personal information.”
Schild says that he has seen instances of people posting inappropriate photos or comments, which can be a reputation spoiler. There are technologies that can block the world from seeing or knowing too much about you, but learning to think before posting is the best skill to avoiding future harm or embarrassment. Even if kids use the highest privacy settings, someone whom they allow to have access to their information could still share it with others.
Additionally, university admission officers are increasingly looking at social networking profiles in their consideration of potential students. A recent study by Kaplan, the industry leader in the U.S. of test preparation services and materials for college-bound students, showed that 21% (up from 16% a year ago) of universities are now considering policies to guide how they will use an applicant’s online profile in the admissions process.
Schild says that the college counselors at his school have advised students to minimize their online presence for the purposes of college admission, unless they have done anything truly significant online to highlight.
His advice to kids starting to build an online presence? “Don’t spend too much time on social networking sites, as there are many more productive things to do online and in the real world. Also, make sure that you set the privacy settings so that no person outside of your inner circle can access your personal information.”
Here are a few basic things you can do to make sure your kids are sharing only the things they need to share online:
- Do as you say. What better way to advise kids then to have a profile yourself? Understand what you can post and where, how privacy settings can be used to carefully control access, and pass on best practices and advice to kids.
- Choose real estate wisely. Limit the number of sites you or your kids use, and understand what they are designed for. Some sites are designed for personal sharing, others for professional networking, others for sharing common interests such as an online gaming. Each time you use one of these, you are putting more of yourself online, so be selective.
- Understand permanence and privacy. Advise your kids to be cautious about what they post. After that, make sure they use settings to limit who sees the information they want them to see. Once they post something, it is out there forever and anyone they gave the privilege to see it could share it.
- Ask your kids to connect. If necessary, ask your kids to add you as a contact to their social networking sites. For younger kids, this can be especially helpful for both of you to ensure they are using the sites safely and smartly.
- Use reputable, up-to-date security software. Hackers and cyber-criminals are very attracted to social networking sites because of the sheer number of people using them. And their tactics for fooling people into divulging personal information or downloading malicious software have become increasingly sophisticated, so be sure to have a good security program on any device you or your kids use to manage your online information.
Who our kids are online is a reflection of who they are. Who they are is a reflection of us. Don’t just tell them but show them how they can use the Internet in a positive and safe way. And if you haven’t looked up your cybertwin yet, perhaps you should.
For more information on how to keep your kids safe online, go to www.trendmicro.com/go/safety.