Social media has had such a viral effect, spreading so quickly and virally that users, organizations and governments are grappling with what constitutes ethical behaviour.
With the Norton Cybercrime Report 2011 revealing that one in two online Indian adults say they would lose contact with friends without social sites, it's becoming increasingly important for netizens to understand how they can share, work and have fun on the web while keeping it clean for others as well. The open nature of the internet makes it easier to think we can get away with unethical behavior. But there’s no laser surgery for digital tattoos and what we do or say online can haunt us forever.
Here are 10 simple tips to avoid social faux pas while online:
Nothing's private online: Have you ever wondered how every fleeting thought of yours would sound, if it were shouted from a rooftops? Social sites have become popular because they are perceived as trusted environments where you can say anything. But remember that what you say online may become public, even if you post it in a private area. Don't disclose personal information about other people either. As an added measure, always ensure you have your privacy settings set at the highest level and that only people you know have access to your personal information. Be sure you enable Secure Browsing (HTTPS) and Login Notifications; these allow you to browse under a secure connection and alerts you of anyone trying to access your account.
Be yourself: It's easy to assume a fake identity when online. But remember that everything is permanent on the internet and a white lie can be disastrous. Many recruiters now check social networking sites while screening candidates and you wouldn't want yourself losing out on a dream job because of something you posted "for fun", would you? Also remember, in India, online liars are more likely to be a victim of cybercrime (83%) than those who don’t lie (74%).
Watch out for identity theft: One of the biggest risks with social networking websites is identity theft - where a cybercriminal assumes the identity of a known person or friend, hoping to lead you to a malicious website or even make requests for “financial assistance”.
Don't overshare: Geo-location” (telling people where you are via your mobile phone or social network) is an increasingly popular activity online, globally. Increasingly, people are “checking in” on the move and announcing their whereabouts to the world. However, permitting applications on mobile devices to identify their location and updating their social networking status with this can broadcast to real-world criminals that they’re not at home. In real life you would not go around telling the whole world you are travelling– so why publicise it online?
Free speech can be costly: Are you among the 64 per cent of Indian adults who think they have the right to do or say anything online and not have it used against them? Your online reputation can have a negative impact in the physical world so find a friend in the real world if you feel like ranting about your boss, politics or the world at large.
Think before you click: Were you itching to see Kate Middleton's wedding dress? Was Osama's death too morbidly fascinating to wait until the papers published it the next day? You just became the cybercriminal's new BFF. Newsy posts on social networking sites help cybercriminals spread malware by leveraging the viral effect of news feeds. Even if a friend has posted it, double-check that it's not malware masquerading as a must-see. Use free tools that scan your wall for viruses, dangerous websites and keeps you and your friends safe.
Tiny URLs are big trouble: Brevity has become a virtue with microblogging sites. Short, snappy posts are in, with the whole story at a link provided. URL shortening services have become wildly popular since they reduce the character length of the website. However, they also mask the true destination, which means a link that purports to lead to your favourite site is probably taking you to a specially crafted objectionable or malicious website. You won't even know till you've landed on the page, and usually the damage has already been done. During a three-month period in 2010, two-thirds of malicious links in news feeds observed by Symantec used shortened URLs and of those, 73 percent were clicked 11 times or more – proving their effectiveness!
Don't be a bully: Nobody likes a bully. Yet, we often think we can get away with it online. You wouldn't insult someone at a party so why hurt them online? According to the Norton Cybercrime Report 2011, 43 % of Indian children had experienced cyber bullying on the Internet or on their mobile phone. Cyberbullies send text messages, emails, instant messages, social networking messages, or post content on blogs, webpages or online game platforms to harass, embarrass, or intimidate others and leverage technology to rapidly and widely spread messages and content.
Play fair: There are plenty of websites offering cheat tools for “social games.” Often, the only thing these end up doing is stealing your passwords and other private information. Some allow access to all the information in your account and even post updates on your friends’ walls without your knowledge!
Be careful of the company you keep: Never add or accept a friend request from someone you don’t know. This can be tricky but a good gauge is, if you’ve never met that person or the name doesn’t even ring a bell, don’t add them. Social sites are a platform to network with people we know in real life, and not a place to add more friends. However, we often feel obligated to add strangers just because they have sent us a request. Just as we would teach our kids not to talk to strangers in the physical world, we also need to tell them that if approached by a stranger online, they should decline.
(The writer is Internet Safety Advocate and Director, Asia, Consumer Business, Symantec. The views expressed are personal)