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Students strive to use social networking safely

Mark Vidal
Editorial Director

Today Facebook and Twitter dominate the world of online social networking. But this is not without inheriting the revolutionary capabilities of the outdated MySpace, which includes cases of cyberbullying, kidnapping and fraud.

“I feel most comfortable with Facebook securities. I have used it for a while now,” said Citrus College sophomore Sylvia Medrano.

Medrano is one of the many who have made the switch from MySpace to Facebook on the grounds of better security and more sophisticated social interaction.

With Facebook there is no race to get the most comments, and there are no unique flamboyant layouts. The site seems to attract more professionals, interacting with one another.

However many Facebook conformers have made the switch without leaving their juvenile MySpace habits behind them.

“Honestly, I haven’t been too cautious with things I post (on Facebook) like the city I live in or info in wall postings. But I’m going to start making an effort,” said Cal Poly senior Ashlee Sterns.

In previous years, MySpace users have fallen victim to stalkers, kidnappers and hackers because they did not safely present themselves to the online world. This includes posting addresses, phone numbers and hang-out destinations, revealing photos and even accepting friend requests from strangers.

“I had a friend who added someone from Chile and all of a sudden they started asking all kinds of private questions like what her address is, so she blocked her,” said Ryan Hicken, a senior at Bonita High School.

Facebook cautions its users to use common sense when adding strangers as friends. It recommends finding out if any of your established friends know the person, doing an online search on them and if you agree to meet them, make it in a public place and invite others to join you.

“My advice to any student is not to put vital information on any of these Web sites. If you want to have a chat page or just talk to other students, just put basic info,” said Director of Campus Safety and Transportation Michael Nunez.

Regarding meeting strangers, Nunez also said meeting up with strangers who dictate where to meet is especially risky. The other option of course is to simply ignore the friend request.

“Everyone has a problem with not wanting to ignore friend requests; they don’t want to be rude. A lot of my friends accept everyone as a friend. I don’t,” Christopher Maldonado, senior at Bonita High School, said.

He said that he currently thinks he is being hacked because there are at least eight friends on his Facebook that he does not recall adding. And many of these friends post phishing links.

In an effort to prevent the latter from harming its current users, Facebook, Twitter and the like have posted continuously updated safety tips (safe tweeting) covering everything from how to block a friend to how to secure your passwords.

But sometimes nothing can save you from social networking abuse.

Donald Pollock, professor of communications, recalls when a fake MySpace was created for him five years ago by one of his own students.

“They showed me in a bad light, it could have been damaging,” Pollock said. The student posted real photos of him and wrote a biography, which made the profile look very authentic.

“It looked real but it was an invasion of privacy,” Pollock said, whose wife was especially angry at the hoax. He eventually told all his students that he would have to seek legal action to get to the bottom of the fake MySpace, after which the unidentified student took it down.

Facebook is not immune to impostor profiles either and offers the option to “report this person” on the false profile to alert administrators of the fake account.

However, according to Facebook’s safety page, they will “review the information” after someone reports the false profile. A Facebook representative was unavailable to comment on the efficacy of this resolution.

Currently one of the most tenacious threats is phishing, which Facebook describes as an online attempt to trick a user by pretending to be an official login page or an official email from an organization.

Posing as an organization that you would have an account with, such as a bank or an email provider, phishing tricks people into giving their user login and account information.

“Some of my friends will have posts with phishing links. I don’t click unless it looks like something they would post,” Maldonado said.

Simply put, users need to be suspicious of prompts for passwords.

Twitter and Facebook caution users not to click on questionable links, even if friends invite you because their accounts could be hacked as well.

Mark Vidal can be reached at mark.vidal@laverne.edu.

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