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the dangers and pitfalls of social networking

"Social networking" refers to using online resources, such as Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, LinkedIn, and others, to communicate with friends, colleagues, and strangers. Since you are reading this, you have at least one account with one or more of these sites where you have shared personal information. Social networking has many benefits: it allows you to connect with people outside of your geographic region, it allows you to reconnect with people with whom you have lost touch over the years, it allows you to spread your opinions, messages, etc. instantly across the internet, and it allows you the ability to communicate in a way no other outlet (letters, newspapers, even e-mail) offers. The social networking story is not always one of success or positive results though. One thing that people sometimes fail to appreciate is the vast number of people, most of whom are probably strangers to them, they are sharing their thoughts, opinions, and activities with when they post something on these sites. I often ask people these questions: Would you take out an advertisement in a newspaper or put up a billboard that discussed your personal feelings about someone else? Would you put a poster of you in some humiliating situation up at the mall or in a magazine for everyone to see? Chances are you would not. What everyone using social networking needs to recognize and understand is that when pictures, thoughts, opinions, and feelings are posted on these various sites, they are no longer your private thoughts and musing and they then become who you are to the world and how some people may define you as a person. Remember that one of the unique aspects of social networking, and one of the characteristics that makes social networking appealing, is that you have the opportunity to introduce yourself to a great number of strangers who you otherwise would never meet. This means, however, that who you appear to be online is who you are to them, for better or worse. When we interact with people face to face, we use things like body language and voice inflection to convey the meaning behind our statements. Typing a comment in a blog or in a 'tweet' makes it much harder for you to add your own tone. Ok, you can use an emoticon ( ☺, ☹, etc.) but we can all agree this isn't the same. For this reason, you should think carefully about what you are going to post. Make sure the intention of your comment would be clear even to someone who doesn't know you or your sense of humor. Current employers, prospective employers, clients, customers, insurance companies, attorneys, and others could access your postings. At Cohen & Feeley, where we protect the rights of seriously injured individuals, our injured clients are routinely the subject of surveillance by an insurance company fighting their claims. One of the first places an investigator will search for information is the internet. Also, legally, statements you yourself make can be used against you in any potential legal proceeding. Before you post something online, think twice about how you would appear to someone else if someone you didn't intend to see your post read or saw it. You may have heard someone's horror story and thought to yourself that it couldn't happen to you. I bet the person who the horror story is about thought the same thing. Your first response to this suggestion might be to say, 'well, my profile or site is private so only the people I allow access can view it.' That may be partly true but can your private "friends" then share your pictures or comments with others, with people who are strangers to you? Of course they can. Additionally, you may inadvertently allow someone access to your page or information without being sure who they are. "Set to private" doesn't necessarily mean what you think it does. Further, if your goal in social networking is networking and building your connections, many of your posts are intended for public consumption. If this is the case, you should not post comments hastily. I understand that spelling errors on your Twitter post might not turn off a prospective client or customer. However, a post made in the heat of the moment or when you are in an emotional state might fail to accurately convey your true opinion or thought. My purpose in writing is not to bash social networking. On the contrary, I know that social networking is a wonderful opportunity to reach more people than anyone could reach in person. I am active on various networking sites and have benefited from my participation. I am extremely diligent, however, about where and what I post. I simply ask that you enjoy the benefits of social networking but please remain cautious about what you share with the world. Johnathan B. Acklen

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