Online Social Networks Points of Caution

Using commonly used online social networks can be a great way to make new friends and keep track of the old. Commonly used online networks are targeted to high school and college students and are accessible to anyone with an .edu e-mail address. The ease of acquiring access to these networks may mean that the information you post may be available to more people than you may think.

We at the University of Houston want you to have a full and rewarding university experience in and out of the classroom. To educate students against identity theft, harassment, stalking, and other potentially dangerous or criminal activity, we are offering the following points of caution about online social networks.

CAUTION: You may have limited control online.

Your privacy settings may block some access to your profile, but it does not mean your postings are one hundred percent secure. Because some sites may not use secure encryption to protect your information, there is a chance unauthorized individuals may gain access to information in your profile through the use of malicious software and use such information for harm.

CAUTION: Deleting may not be enough.

Deleting potentially incriminating or personal information about yourself does not always mean you have removed it from cyberspace. If you shared it with other people who have printed or saved your profile or pictures, your information may still be accessible to others. Additionally, many internet service providers and servers back up or duplicate the information, retaining it indefinitely.

CAUTION: Employers use online social networks.

Reportedly, many employers have begun looking at online profiles of potential candidates before granting interviews or extending job offers. Some images may be available for view by simply "googling" a name and not necessarily registering for a site.

CAUTION: Police use online social network sites.

Police departments are increasingly using online social network sites as tools to identify potential suspects in crimes. In some circumstances, an investigation has been started solely on the basis of information obtained on the Internet. If your site contains language or images that indicate you have engaged in a violation of law, appropriate action may be taken against you.

CAUTION: Predators may be lurking.

Be aware that posting personal information online may make it available to people who may not have the best intentions. There have been instances of stalking and harassment that have originated from online websites. Protect your personal information by not posting it.

CAUTION: Responsibility rests with you.

Just as you are responsible for the content of your résumé and your public image, you are ultimately responsible for your profile. You may have some control over who sees your online information and you can take action to influence how others perceive you. Many sites allow you to restrict the availability of your profile to certain individuals. While these settings provide no guarantees, they can be a useful tool in gaining some control of your private information, including photos.

CAUTION: You are who your profile says you are.

Your online profile may be the only impression someone has of you. Make sure the image you are projecting online is one that accurately represents you.