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Last Updated: 19-Jun-2009
Information Technology Services
Information Technology Services: Social Networks

Social Networks (also known as Online communities) like Facebook and MySpace are extremely popular and have helped students at colleges and universities connect in many positive ways. Through these social networks, people meet others with similar interests, form groups to share specific interests, and transform the ways that we communicate with each other. At Northern we realize how important these communities may be during your college years.

At the same time, there are some cautionary lessons that have emerged from participating in online communities. We advise you to use discretion when posting personal information on the World Wide Web.

What to know before you post:

  • You are posting content onto the World Wide Web and you don't know who does and does not have access to your information. It's called the World Wide Web for a reason - All information posted on the web is public information.
  • Information you post online may continue to stay on the World Wide Web even after you erase or delete that information or photo from your profiles or blogs.
  • Future employers, graduate schools, and campus organizations may use information gathered from online communities as they are making decisions.
  • Read the site terms and agreements before you sign up. Did you actually read the terms or did you just check the box at the bottom of the page? Know what you are agreeing to before clicking "ok." By agreeing to the terms of use, online communities have your permission to republish your content worldwide and share information with advertisers, third parties, and law enforcement, among others.

Protect Yourself

Sharing too much personal information, including your address, telephone number, birthday, class schedule, etc., can put you at risk for identity theft, stalking, harassment, and other problems. Just because there is a field for certain information, does not mean you have to fill it in.

Pictures or other evidence of illegal behavior, such as underage drinking, could put you at risk for legal consequences, including violations of the Student Conduct Code and Housing and Residential Life policies.

  • Change your privacy settings to keep your identity safe. Most sites allow you to limit who can find you in a search, who can see your profile, and who can view your contact information. The default setting in most sites is to make ALL of your information available to EVERYONE.
  • Create complex passwords that contain both numbers and letters. Make sure that your passwords are unrelated to any of the information that you post (e.g.: your birthday). And don't share your password with anyone!
  • When creating a profile in a cyber community, post only information that is already public. Post general information rather than specific. For example, if you're listing your birthday, list the month and day, but leave out the year you were born. If you're posting your address, just post the city and state, leave out your residence hall or apartment number.
  • Be careful what you write. Free speech doesn't protect hate speech.

Warning Signs of Internet Addiction

Due to the nature of interactions people have online, it can be addicting to spend time on the Internet. There are some activities available online that can be addictive such as fantasy gaming, gambling, and social networks. Here are some warning signs:

  • Feeling preoccupied with the Internet
  • Choosing to spend time on the Internet rather than with friends or family
  • Spending more time than originally intended online
  • Using the Internet as a way of escaping from problems
  • Jeopardizing school, relationships, or career because of time spent on the Internet
  • Having a hard time connecting directly with other people and choosing to interact online instead
  • Denial of amount of time spent online, or using the Internet alone so others do not know how much time is spent
  • Checking for messages repeatedly
  • Inability to spend any length of time away from the Internet

While none of these signs are an immediate indicator of a more serious problem. when they are combined or happen repeatedly, it's good to seek outside assistance.

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Your profile will be a part of how others know you --

Could what you post jeopardize your opportunity to obtain a leadership position on your campus or in your community?

Is it possible for potential future employers to see a photograph of you engaged in unethical, dangerous, or even illegal activities?

What would your family members think of your online journal entries?
Think before you post!
Many students and employees are being held accountable for their online behavior, in the same way they are held accountable for their non-virtual behavior. With the ease of printing and saving information produced online, you could be creating a written record of your legal and/or policy violations. Online behavior can affect your status as a student or employee just as your behavior off-line does.
About that photo...
Ok, you know not to post personal identifiable information (addresses, phone numbers, class schedules, favorite hang-outs, etc), but what about that photo? You could be disclosing a lot more information than you realize. Consider the background of pictures. Maybe you haven’t disclosed your address, but a picture with your apartment building in the background does the same thing. You may want to post a picture of your awesome sports car, but if the license plate number is exposed, you are telling others a lot more than you realize.
Report Security Incidents
Report stolen devices (laptops, PDAs, etc) and suspected computer break-ins to ITS immediately. The sooner we know about an incident, the sooner we can respond, potentially limiting any damage.
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