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If you have enough computer savvy to get to this page, you probably have at least heard of MySpace and Facebook. They are both social networks--an online community where people can share as much or as little information about themselves as they want and can communicate easily with others on the network. As part of a social network you can share pictures, videos, music, discussions, and blogs with everyone else in the network. And you can "meet" people that you might never otherwise know existed. Okay, sometimes you wish you still didn't know they existed, but you get the point.
The airwaves are full of horror stories about predators connecting to someone on the internet, arranging a meeting, and then committing a crime. Other people simply pretend to be someone they're not as a prank, to spam porn or some business venture, or to annoy someone anonymously. To be sure, there are enough crazies out there to warrant caution.
Ultimately, however, your own good judgment is your best ally. Think about strolling onto the Boston Common. Imagine that over by the fountain there's a lively public discussion about a topic that interests you. It's free and anybody is welcome, so you walk on over. You join in and find that in the space of half an hour you have exchanged interesting ideas with five different people. It's great. One of those people suggests that you continue the discussion privately down in the parking garage. Do you go? If you're 16 years old, you might, which is why the parents of teenagers get anxiety disorders. If your judgment is better honed, you might graciously decline or suggest a more public location.
Social Media is in many ways like that event on the Common and the same precautions apply.
Sharing on a social network is fun and is designed to provide as much intimacy with others as is possible in an electronic medium. But we've all heard the stories. While you can set your profile so that only those you have recognized as "friends" can see it, nothing on the web is hacker-free. Don't post pictures of others without their permission. Save that photo of you and a friend acting out the Song of Solomon for private viewing at home. Remember that your blog could be read by your boss, your pastor, your mother or Homeland Security and write accordingly.
You can post as little or as much information about yourself as you wish and can engage with others or not according to your comfort level. Millions of people use social media every day with great delight and no problems. As long as you remember that whatever you post is now on the world-wide web and share only what you are comfortable showing or saying to the world, you'll be fine.
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