Think the most popular social networks, Facebook and Twitter, are just for kids? Consider this: Social media use among adults is skyrocketing, as 50 percent of adult Internet users now reconnect with old friends, make new ones and show off personal photos via a social network.
“As broadband and mobile access spreads, more people have the ability—and increasingly, the habit—of sharing what they are doing or thinking [online],” notes Susannah Fox, associate director of digital strategy at the Pew Internet and American Life Project in a 2011 report.
More than just a hobby, these interactions also could be good for you. Researchers at The Phoenix Center in Washington, D.C., found that, among the elderly, Internet use may reduce loneliness and depression.
The ins and outs of social networking often are intimidating to new users. As you dive headfirst into these public pools of information, keep in mind these helpful dos and don’ts:
Do be picky about your profile. The first thing you should do when joining a social network is create your personal profile. Type in your name, the city you live in, and a quick sentence or two about yourself. You can even add a photo.
Beyond basic information, proceed with caution. Remember: Your profile is public, and not everyone online has your best interest in mind. If you over-share by adding too much personal information, such as street address, your mother’s maiden name, your year of birth or your vacation schedule, con artists and thieves may attempt to use that information to trick you into sharing even more with them.
Don’t keep your daily diary online. Before the Information Age, we nurtured a few special relationships of relatives or friends who knew our routines, secrets and family circumstances, and they understood this was a privilege and rarely abused it. No matter how safe you begin to feel online, do not grant the Internet access into your “circle” of relationships and routines. The Web is great for many things, but keeping your secrets is not one of them.
“The bottom line is that you must treat everything like it is public,” says social media expert Nisha Chittal, of Washington, D.C.
“When you are posting online, think about if you would be OK with your boss, members of your church or your mom seeing this.” And even though social networks have privacy settings, Chittal advises, “Don’t ever place 100 percent of your trust in a social network’s privacy settings.”
Do beware of social scammers. Occasionally, you will see Facebook friends or Twitter followers post links to websites or applications that supposedly “save you hundreds of dollars,” promise you a “free iPad” or even a chance to “see who is viewing your profile.” Don’t click these links—they likely contain viruses. Spam links sometimes are posted to accounts by computer hackers. If it happens to you, don’t panic. Just delete the offending post and change your password right away.
Don’t overdo it. Take a break for your health. Perusing old friends’ and new buddies’ profiles may be interesting, but if your physical or mental health is fragile, take a break. The inherent tendency to compare and contrast—and to dwell on it—when reading about others’ lives online may not be healthy for you.
The benefits of new media merriment are many. But like most things in life, it’s best to surf and share in moderation and to know your personal boundaries.