Teens love to think that they know all there is to know about social networking and online safety. They figure, they grew up with this stuff and have had Internet safety drilled into their heads since they were in elementary school. The problem is, privacy on the Internet and especially Facebook is always changing. Yes, the fundamentals remain the same – don’t talk to strangers (especially adults), don’t meet anyone you don’t know in person, don’t tell anyone where you live or give them your phone number, and be careful what pictures you put of yourself online, oh and if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Teens are pretty good at following these rules, but sometimes they make mistakes and the consequences can be devastating.
A teen I know very well, who will remain nameless, dealt with a pretty traumatic event towards the end of this past summer right before the start of the school year. Someone decided to create a Facebook persona with the sole purpose of saying who the hottest girls were at this teen’s high school. For reasons unbeknownst to me she decided it would be a good idea to accept this person’s friend request. This “person” then had access to all of her photos and posted them on their page. Shortly after her picture was posted people started commenting, mostly saying nice things, but one person started saying horrible things about her. This was not someone she knew or that even lived in the same state as her so she had no idea why he was saying these things about her. He basically made her so self-conscious and depressed that she didn’t want to go back to school. She would call me sobbing, feeling ugly and worthless, I felt horrible for her and was determined to save the day.
I tried reporting the account to Facebook saying that it wasn’t a real person, but I never heard anything back and the account was never disabled. Since she gave access to her photos initially we couldn’t revoke them without going through some horribly long drawn out process about copyright infringement blah, blah, blah (give me a break, like teens know anything about copyright laws). By the time we had researched all of this her friends had stepped up to the plate big time. They all started giving the harasser a hard time and defended this girl unfailingly, in the end it was her friends who saved the day. The harasser even apologized.
After this event though, I made sure she knew how to create lists in Facebook and to stay vigilant about updating her privacy settings. I know she is going to accept friend requests from complete strangers because they are teens and supposedly have mutual friends, but she needs to know how to protect herself from these so-called friends. Situations like this show just how much teens need adults in their lives who take the time to learn the ins and outs of Facebook privacy settings and then teach them in a way that makes sense and isn’t condescending. Librarians are in a great position to reach out to this demographic and get the information to them that they need. We can do this in a number of ways:
- If you have a professional Facebook account where teens friend you, post updates when there are changes to Facebook’s privacy settings.
- Post quick screencast tutorials on Facebook or on the library’s home-page or blog showing teens how to navigate the multitude of privacy settings.
- One-on-one talks. The, “hey did you know…”, approach seems to work pretty well with teens.
- Hold a program teaching teens how to set their privacy settings. Maybe offering a prize to the teen who knows the most or already has the best privacy settings would be a good way to draw teens in.
- Hold a class for parents at your library. Teens might not have to listen to the librarian, but they do have to listen to their parents. If we can educate the parents they can pass the knowledge on to their teens.
These are the major areas of privacy settings that teens (and their parents) should know about and pay attention to on Facebook:
- You can now use secure browsing (https). This can be found under Account Settings.
- “Connecting on Facebook” settings, which is on the “Privacy Settings” home page.
- “Sharing on Facebook” settings, which is also on the “Privacy Settings” home page. Users should always use the “Customize Settings” link. There is a lot to think about in this section so a good deal of time should be spent going over the various setting options.
- “Apps and Websites”, again this is on the “Privacy Settings” home page. Users should know that even if they don’t use apps, if their friends do, those apps might be accessing their (the user’s) information. This can be controlled under the “Apps and Websites” section.
- “Block Lists”, on the “Privacy Settings’ home page. This is where users can block specific individuals, events, apps etc… from finding them on Facebook.
- How to make lists! Set different privacy settings for different lists. If you don’t know someone well don’t let them see your wall, photos, personal info or even your other friends.
Of course by the time I’ve finished writing this post I’m sure all of these will be different, which leads me to my final point – check your privacy settings often to see if Facebook has made any changes, and when Facebook sends you alerts about changes to your account READ THEM.