Reality Bites a ‘Villen by James A. Norton

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Keeping things in perspective – online and in person – will keep you sane, or will it?

I’m in the process of writing a large series of short stories involving my experiences online over the last 30 years and how they’ve intertwined with my real life – good, bad
and indifferent – for a large industry publication. Prior to that release mid-year, and in the spirit of the holidays that are before us, I figured I would give a few pointers here for those who are a little more naive than others when it comes to matters of the online community.

There’s no way to encapsulate the nuances of online etiquette – the dos and don’ts of how you should behave online – in a format that will apply across the board here, so all I can say about that is when you’re in a situation where you are interacting with others online – is to keep it in perspective. Be aware that just because you are comfy in your jammies in the security of your own home, doesn’t mean that you won’t run into someone you called an asshat on Facebook at the corner store at some point.

Can you say awkward? Now imagine if you called them something worse? Right…

The online community, specifically Facebook (for lack of a more timely example), has its ups and downs. It is an easy way to communicate with friends (old and new), clients and/or customers, coworkers and others into similar interests (via Pages). It brings people, places and opinions together on a massive scale (depending on how many friends you have, the privacy of your page and the different pages you like along the way).

There are different motivations for someone to join the social network – desire to interact with others on a larger than life scale, to promote your business and expand your own personal and professional network, to use as a pseudo-dating site (a whole separate column for this one later on), to escape into pictures and postings related to life interests, whatever your poison. It is pretty much whatever you want to make of it – which is exactly why you should always be cautious of your own personal information online.

The whole subject of protection of your personal information online would take about ten columns to really get at it, so in the spirit of simplicity, I will advise that depending on your motivation, you should tailor-make your personal profile/page to have only the information you are comfortable with available to the general public. It’s okay to be found on a public search, but, I would be wary of sharing your friends list and even more wary of sharing your pictures – you can have the most secure profile/page on Facebook and merely forget to not allow public commenting or sharing of your photos, and you quickly turn your private page into something completely different. And you’d never know it.

Want to know where to start and keep the flow of personal information completely in your control? I would apply every possible security measure on Facebook and then by trial and error, let some of them loose a little here and there – you will eventually find yourself in a place where you can interact with others, even those you don’t know personally, and still maintain your security. Of course, not calling everyone online a slut, asshat and all manner of douche also keeps you secure when out buying a gallon of milk. Something to consider both short and long term.

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