Four Questions You Should Ask About Social Networking

As with virtually any use of the Internet, social networking has its dangers. * With that in mind, consider the following questions.

1 How Does Social Networking Affect My Privacy?

“In the abundance of words there does not fail to be transgression, but the one keeping his lips in check is acting discreetly.”​—Proverbs 10:19.

What you should know. If you are not careful, your profile information, photos, status updates (short messages to everyone on your list of friends), and comments (your replies to others’ status updates) could reveal too much. For example, they might reveal such things as where you live, when you are (and are not) at home, where you work, or where you go to school. Your address along with a brief post such as, “We leave for vacation tomorrow!” is enough to tell a thief where and when to strike.

Other details​—for instance, your e-mail address, your date of birth, or your phone number—​could leave you open to harassment, bullying, or identity theft. Yet, many people readily divulge such information on their social networking page.

People tend to forget that once they post something online, it is in the public domain. Even if they specify that their status updates are to be shared with “Friends Only,” they have no control over what those friends might do with the information. Really, anything posted on a social network should be viewed as public or as material that can easily be made public.

What you can do. Be thoroughly familiar with the privacy settings on your social network, and use them. Restrict access to your status updates and photos to people you know and trust.

Even then, realize that what you post can be made more public than you intend. Regularly review your page, and ask yourself whether anything you have revealed could be used by unscrupulous individuals to locate you or to steal your identity. Even among your friends, do not post information that could violate your privacy or the privacy of another person. (Proverbs 11:13) If you have sensitive information to relate, use another form of communication. “Talking on the phone is way more personal and far less exposing,” says a young woman named Cameron.

The bottom line. A woman named Kim sums it up well. “If you are mindful of what you are doing,” she says, “you can maintain a measure of privacy on a social network. It doesn’t lead to trouble unless you let it.”

  2 How Does Social Networking Affect My Time?

“Make sure of the more important things.”​—Philippians 1:10.

What you should know. Social networking can consume your time and distract you from more vital activities. As a woman named Kay puts it, “the more contacts you have, the more time you will spend social networking and the more addictive it can be.” Consider comments from some who say that they were caught in the trap.

“It’s hard to get off a social networking site, even when you don’t really like it. It’s almost like an obsession.”​—Elise.

“There are so many things to do​—games, tests, music fan pages—​not to mention checking out all your friends’ profile pages.”​—Blaine.

“It’s a vortex that sucks you in, and you have no idea you’ve been caught until your mom comes home and asks you why the dishes haven’t been done.”​—Analise.

“I found myself wanting to get home from school as soon as possible just to see who had responded to my posts. And then I had to reply to all those people and look at all the new photos they had uploaded. I’d get in a really bad mood when I was online, and I hated being interrupted. Some people I know are on the site almost all the time​—even when they’re out socializing with others at their houses and at crazy times during the night!”​—Megan.

What you can do. Time is a commodity that you cannot afford to waste. So why not set a budget for it, just as you would for your money? First, write down an amount of time that you feel would be reasonable to spend networking. Then track yourself for a month, and see how well you kept your resolve. Make adjustments where needed.

If you are a parent and your adolescents are spending excessive time with social networking, try to discern if there are any underlying issues. For example, in her book Cyber-Safe Kids, Cyber-Savvy Teens, Nancy E. Willard points out that overuse of social networking may be linked to anxiety, stress, and low self-esteem. “Many teens are highly concerned about their social status,” she writes. “If teens measure their social worth based on the level of electronic communication activity with friends, this can fuel addiction.”

Never let social networking​—or any online activity, for that matter—​interfere with the friendships you should be cultivating within your own household. “One of the ironies of the Internet,” writes Don Tapscott in his book Grown Up Digital, “is that while it makes staying in touch easier when family members are physically apart, it can also keep them apart when they’re at home.”

The bottom line. A girl named Emily says: “I think social networking is a great way to stay in touch with people. But, as with anything else, you just have to know when to shut it down.”

  3 How Does Social Networking Affect My Reputation?

“A good reputation and respect are worth much more than silver and gold.”​—Proverbs 22:1, “Contemporary English Version.”

What you should know. What you post on a social network carves out a reputation for you that may be difficult to erase. (Proverbs 20:11; Matthew 7:17) Many seem oblivious to the potential danger. “It seems that when people go on a social network, they lose their sense of reason,” says a young woman named Raquel. “They say things that they normally wouldn’t say. Some don’t realize that with one distasteful post, their good reputation can be ruined.”

Damaging your reputation on a social network can have long-range consequences. Grown Up Digital states: “Stories are legion of social network site users losing their jobs or being turned down for new jobs because of what they have posted online.”

What you can do. Look at your social network page and try to see it the way others would see it. Ask yourself these questions: ‘Is this how I really want to be viewed? If someone looked at my posted photos and had to describe my character as they perceived it, what terms would likely come to that person’s mind? “Flirty”? “Sexy”? “Party animal”? If so, is that the way I want to be seen when I apply for a job, for example, and my prospective employer looks at my page? Do these pictures really represent the values I stand for?’

If you are a young person, ask yourself: ‘What if my parents, a teacher, or an adult whom I look up to viewed my page? Would I be embarrassed at what they could see and read?’

The bottom line. When it comes to your reputation, remember the words of the apostle Paul: “You will reap exactly what you plant.”​—Galatians 6:7, Good News Translation.

  4 How Does Social Networking Affect My Friendships?

“He that is walking with wise persons will become wise, but he that is having dealings with the stupid ones will fare badly.”​—Proverbs 13:20.

What you should know. Your friendships influence how you think and act. (1 Corinthians 15:33) So it only makes sense to be selective about whom you befriend on a social network. Some accept dozens or even hundreds of friend requests from people they hardly know​—or do not know at all. Others discover that not all on their list of friends are good associates. Consider what some have said.

“If a person accepts friend requests from every Tom, Dick, and Harry, he or she is bound to get into trouble.”​—Analise.

“Many people I know will add friends that they don’t really want, but they say they don’t want to hurt the person’s feelings by ignoring the request.”​—Lianne.

“It’s just like associating with those people in person. You have to be careful about who your friends are.”​—Alexis.

What you can do. Set up a ‘friending policy.’ For example, some have put limits on themselves with regard to friendships: *

“I only allow people to be my friend if I know them​—not just recognize them—​but actually know them.”​—Jean.

“I only friend people I have known for a long time. I never add strangers.”​—Monique.

“I like to add only those whom I know quite well and whose standards I know match mine.”​—Rae.

“If I receive a friend request from someone I don’t know, I ignore the request. It’s as simple as that. All my friends are people I know and am already friends with outside the online world.”​—Marie.

“If a friend starts posting pictures or status updates that I find objectionable, I don’t feel bad at all about deleting that person. Even if you are just viewing their posts, it’s bad association.”​—Kim.

“When I had a social network account, I had very strict privacy settings. I would not allow friends of friends to see my posts or pictures​—just my friends. I did this because I didn’t know for certain whether the friends of my friends were OK for me to associate with. I didn’t know them​—or their reputation.”​—Heather.

The bottom line. Dr. Gwenn Schurgin O’Keeffe writes in her book CyberSafe: “The best guideline is to only friend people you know and have a connection with off-line.” *


^ par. 2 Awake! neither endorses nor condemns any particular social networking site. Christians should be sure that their use of the Internet does not violate Bible principles.​—1 Timothy 1:5, 19.

^ par. 35 In this article, we are discussing casual friendships, not business associations.

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If you leave your account signed on when you are not present, you run the risk that others will post material on your page. According to attorney Robert Wilson, that is “the equivalent of leaving your wallet or cell phone in public on the picnic table. Anyone can sit down and start making posts to your Wall.” His advice? “Be sure to sign out.”

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A survey by Consumer Reports revealed that many social network users “take risks that can lead to burglaries, identity theft, and stalking. Fifteen percent had posted their current location or travel plans, 34 percent their full birth date, and 21 percent of those with children at home had posted those children’s names and photos.”