Keeping up appearances
Social media sites make sharing with friends and family anywhere in the world simple and fun. But maintaining the right image while protecting your privacy in an online domain can be problematic.
Reports have raised concern over potential employers asking for job applicants' passwords for social media sites. Michael Sprague - co-founder of Scrambls, a posting encryption developer - says that users are becoming increasingly uncomfortable. In May, a complaint lodged with the Maryland branch of the American Civil Liberties Union resulted in the first bill in the US prohibiting employers from requiring or requesting user names or passwords as a condition of employment.
Sprague warns users that every e-mail, comment and tweet is a digital footprint. 'Data mining is so powerful. Schools and employers might make decisions based on the information you've posted.'
Potential employers commonly perform web searches on candidates. LinkedIn (linkedin.com) is a professional networking site, which employers can use. Twitter links can be enabled on profiles to enter professional and personal Twitter accounts. Zaheer Nooruddin, a digital strategist at communications firm Burson-Marsteller, Asia-Pacific, suggests regularly googling yourself 'to see how the rest of the world sees you'. He also recommends reading user reviews of sites you might join.
Appearance is everything, so Sprague warns against writing things you wouldn't want a stranger reading over your shoulder. 'It's best to imagine you're online alone on Facebook, not one of 900 million.'
Nooruddin reminds that posts are accessible by everyone, forever. 'Consider context. Posts travel quickly between social networks. Participate deliberately and delete profiles you don't actively maintain.'
If past posts leave you sleepless, Facebook archives contain all posts, photos and contact details of friends, downloadable for review.
Forget popularity contests, and don't accept friend requests from strangers. Under the Facebook public search setting, disable public web searches. Other users can still successfully look you up, from within the site.
'Your data is only as secure as the weakest link in the chain,' warns Noordurin, so as with offline friendships, treat - and post - respectfully.
Keep your profile private except for friends and avoid indicating family members. Use direct messages to make plans and keep contact information private, especially within group e-mails. Facebook groups and Google hangouts are great for showcasing online wit, but do it with independent privacy settings, as many show in public web searches.
Sprague advises regular reviews. 'Sites don't always notify changes to default settings,' he says.
It's easy to casually post useful information by accident. Top 10 lists can be funny but revealing. Being sensible means refraining from mentioning regular haunts: work, study and home. Posts about holidays indicate an empty flat. Opt to approve tags, especially to maintain your image.
Controlling privacy settings isn't the same as maintaining your online image. Despite being mindful, Nooruddin recommends taking time to craft your image.
Scrambls (scrambls.com) encrypts posts so only intended recipients view the content; to others, it's a nonsensical string of symbols. Users add approved recipients' e-mail addresses to a list, which can be modified at any time. Before posting, Scrambls encodes the post, later applying a decryption key for those with approved viewing. 'We don't see or store the original text,' Sprague says.
Knowing the right people is good for your image. Rapportive is a service that works seamlessly with your e-mail inbox; it allows you to see the sender's photo and social media aliases including Google+, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn in a sidebar. Click on a button to connect on a social media platform. It's a fast and effective way to screen connections.
Maintaining multiple profiles doesn't have to be hard work, either. Numerous cross-platform posting apps work well for both computers and smartphones.
Posterous enables cross-platform posting in one action. Covering Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Blogger, Tumblr, Flickr and YouTube, all content is stored in one Posterous account, which uses spaces, similar to Google+ circles. Posts can be made through e-mail, smartphone, or computer; users can filter which sites are updated.
Hootsuite for Twitter also covers Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, WordPress and Foursquare, among others. The free version allows five social network, two RSS feeds and stores statistics history for 30 days. It also translates messages in more than 50 languages. The desktop version syncs easily with various smartphone brands including BlackBerry.
Third-party tweeting app TweetDeck proved so popular that Twitter bought it last year for around ?25 million (HK$304 million). Now it supports Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and Foursquare. Available in desktop and smartphone versions, the touch of an icon selects which accounts are updated. Deck.ly also enables users to bust the 140-character Twitter limit.
'Sharing information online, especially on social platforms, comes with opportunities - and potential risks,' says Nooruddin.
These days, it's probably better for your image to actively maintain at least one social media profile. Just think twice before you post.