I’ve always been very conservative when it comes to sharing identifying details on my blog. You may have noticed that I never mention my last name, my address (not even my city), my phone number, where I work, and I even hesitate to mention first names of my family and friends. While not revealing a phone number or specific address is a no-brainer, you might think that everything else is a bit of an overkill. Yeah, I’m a little paranoid. But it’s not without a good reason.
A few months ago I attended a conference in which the city’s detective over crimes against children spoke. He told of a recent situation in which an elementary-aged boy set up a Facebook account. Now, he didn’t do too much with his account, but he did put up his picture and “liked” his elementary school. A man (a pedophile) who lived in a city several hours away was trolling for little boys on Facebook and came across this particular boy. He did some research and found out where the elementary school was located, printed out the boy’s picture, and made the voyage up to the boy’s city. He waited outside the elementary school for several days until he identified the boy from Facebook. He followed the boy as he walked home from school and then tried to persuade the boy to get in his vehicle. Fortunately, the boy got away, told his mom, and the police quickly caught up to the Facebook creeper.
This happened in a smallish, safe college town! And all it took was a picture and the name of an elementary school. People who troll Facebook or blogs for victims are so good at putting two and two together. Sometimes I put my creeper goggles on when I look at blogs that are public. No last name, but a link to their Facebook page–full name accomplished along with a handy picture. Maybe their address is on whitepages.com. No address, but I have gathered through several posts that they live in Cody, Wyoming and work at the hospital–location accomplished. Now I just have to camp out at the hospital until I see them come out, then I follow them home. I feel creepy talking like that (because I’m definitely not a creeper), but it’s way too easy to gather all the info I’d need to find this person.
I’m not trying to give anyone a guilt trip or discourage people from using Facebook or having a blog. But we all could use a reminder occasionally (myself included) to put on our creeper goggles as we’re looking through our own social media to ensure that we aren’t an easy target for predators. Here are a few suggestions:
Facebook used to be fairly straightforward when it came to privacy, but with every update there were changes to privacy. Most of your settings will carry over, but not all, so check on it periodically. Currently there are a few places you need to go to ensure your privacy.
1. Go to privacy settings in the drop-down menu in the top right corner of Facebook.
Set your default privacy settings to friends, or you can also go to custom and pick out specific Facebook friends that you don’t want to see your stuff. This is good if you felt obligated to accept someone’s friend request, but you don’t really want them knowing where you live or looking at your pictures. I’ll admit I have a few on there. Anyway, this is sort of the blanket statement of how private you want things. It covers most things, but not all. Also go through the other settings on the privacy setting page to double check that things look good.
2. This part is very important. Go to your profile and click “Update Info” (it should be to the right of your name).
3. It also may be a good idea to make your “likes” something only your friends can see (as illustrated by the above story). You can do this by clicking on “Likes” which should be pretty close to your “Update Info” button on your profile, and then selecting friends from the edit drop-downs.
4. Lastly, on your profile page, next to the “Update Info” button and “Activity Log” button is a settings cog. Click it, and then click “view as…”
This will show you what a stranger will see when they view your profile. Put on your creeper goggles and determine if there is any information that you need to make un-public.
It’s also a really good idea to check whitepages.com and other similar websites to see how much info is available on there. For example, I looked up my mom’s name and it brought up my parents’ address, phone number, and the names of their adult children. For whitepages.com you can log in with your Facebook account to hide any info you don’t want publically accessible. It’s easy and took me maybe five minutes. You could probably leave your phone number on there if you still wanted people to be able to know how to contact you, but it’s probably best to always hide your address info. It doesn’t do you much good to keep everything on the down-low on Facebook and your blog, when creepers can find everything they need on Whitepages with just your name and the state you live in.
Privacy with blogging is a little less complicated than Facebook. You can make your blog public or private. Private blogs are fabulously safe because only people you invite can look at them. However, the inviting process is a little too inconvenient for my taste, so I go with public. When your blog is public be so so so so soooo cautious with the information you reveal. You may not think you are a target for creepers, but you might have children or grandchildren that are.
Not only be careful about what you blog about yourself, but also what you reveal about your friends and family. If you talk about visiting your sister, all you have to do to put her and her family in a vulnerable position is to say, “We visited Lucy and her kids who live in Boise. They took us to a park a few blocks away from their house and it was so fun. I can see why they go there almost every day,” along with a picture of the kids at the park. This may seem pretty innocent, but a creeper familiar with Boise could probably identify the park and know that this family lives nearby and comes very often. Is that not terrifying?! Be so careful with what you say and the pictures you post. When posting pictures of the front of your house (or someone else’s house) make sure street numbers aren’t visible or are photoshopped out.
The same goes with commenting on other people’s blogs. Even if you’re pretty liberal with what you reveal on your own blog, be conservative to the nth power when commenting on a friend or family member’s blog. Pretend like they’re part of the witness protection program—don’t blow their cover. Don’t mention any names, cities, states, workplaces, local landmarks, etc. that they haven’t mentioned themselves. Also, if someone makes a comment on your blog that gives too much info, go ahead and delete it. Avoiding offending someone isn’t worth compromising your safety. Send them an email or Facebook message explaining why you deleted their comment, and emphasize that the comment wasn’t offensive, just unsafe. I’ve done it before and still feel a little bad about being the internet safety nazi, but it was the right thing to do.
Is this all an overkill? Maybe. But it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Did I miss anything?