Social Websites: Take Caution

How Much Is Too Much?

Cautionary Information Regarding Social Websites

Without question, the internet is one of the greatest advancements of our time. The availability and access of information have reformed businesses, economics, education, and social interaction. Recently, however, unlimited access to personal information available through social networks (MySpace, Facebook, Hi5, Twitter) is creating a lot of apprehension among trial lawyers, as well as the opportunity to obtain unbridled personal data on adversaries and clients.

The days of unchecked tweets, Facebook “privacy” and unlocked doors are long gone. Instead, social network users must restrain the desire to inform friends, coworkers, and family about their every move, thought, and opinion on sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Ideally, negative motives for viewing social website profiles would be non-existent, but in fact, almost anyone can see the information you post on social networking sites at any time and make take advantage of your information. Realistically, individuals need to curb their desire to inform the public at large of the details of their life or risk suffering occupational or personal damage, or even risk personal safety.

It is almost impossible to avoid the barrage of examples of individuals that suffer somehow because of something they posted on the internet. Admittedly, for trial lawyers, it is often humorous to learn that an inappropriate emotional outburst made its way across the information highway to the wrong eyes and ears. But, upon reflection, it is not difficult to imagine more serious consequences that can result from the insecure disclosure of too much personal information.

While the internet is generally a blessing, it can also be a dangerous mode of communication if used imprudently. The consequences may range from general embarrassment to unemployment to burglary to impeachment in a civil or criminal proceeding. One individual tweeted that he had just gotten a job offer with a great paycheck, but he did not want to do any of the work and did not expect to enjoy the job…in so many words. Unfortunately, a higher-up in the company saw the tweet and commented that the hiring partner would be happy to note the gentleman’s true outlook. Although the prospective employee quickly deleted his contact information, irreparable damage was already done.

Social and professional networking sites intertwine with the legal realm as well. Attorneys are beginning to recognize the value of viewing “profiles” during investigations of their own clients and opposing clients in both criminal and civil litigation, and the results can be disastrous. It is important to make sure that the information posted on networking sites is not too personal, too informative, or too condemning. In the networking world, less is more.

More ominously, criminals are beginning to recognize the opportunities presented by individuals that constantly offer convenient updates on their whereabouts. Although no direct correlation exists yet, a number of individuals speculate that their homes were robbed while they were on vacation because they “tweeted” that they were heading out of town so that family and friends would know, and that the information fell into the wrong hands.

Although privacy and security settings reduce the availability of your personal information, every computer is susceptible to hackers. As security programs become more resistant to hacking, hackers become more adept at cracking security systems. The best means of avoiding damage to your professional and social life and protecting yourself and your family is to use your common sense. If you would not risk telling a stranger whatever information you are placing on your profile or in your tweet, you may want to reconsider publishing that information. Protect yourself from vulnerability by limiting the information you post: Instead of disclosing your address and phone number, consider leaving an e-mail address; Do not post your current whereabouts. If you are going out of town, instead call a neighbor and a family member and let them know where you will be. Use caution when posting photographs that may be incriminating or embarrassing, and make sure to “un-tag” photos that your friends and family post that may portray you in an unflattering light. When you least expect it, you may learn that you have already “smiled” for the camera you thought was candid.

No matter what security enforcements you have in place, the opportunity still exists for someone to take advantage of your personal information in a negative way. Consider whether it is necessary to delve into and divulge any aspect of your personal life online. Upon reflection, you may recognize that you can still keep in touch with family and friends using updates with far less information.

Proactive protection and common sense can keep you safe from the many threats associated with website profiling. “The balance between providing and withholding information must be flawlessly calibrated….” Christopher Ho

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