Social Networking: Protect your Family!

True Story:

The parents of three beautiful girls have found Facebook to be a valuable tool for social networking.  Mom and Dad are both active on it, sharing photos, summarizing daily habits, and enjoying a playful banter amongst friends.  Mom & Dad have always been safety conscious, especially since the adoption of their two daughters was arranged to have been “closed.”  Both parents conservatively set their privacy settings according to their comfort level and proceeded to engage in regular facebooking behavior without much worry.

This scenario sounds familiar to many, I’m sure.

Over time, facebook has revised itself, and as result – they found themselves in an awkward predicament.  Mom received a “friend request” from an extended family member of her adopted daughters’ biologic family.  With no intention of approving this request, she wandered through this potential “friend’s” contacts list and discovered her daughters’ biological mother listed amongst those shown.  Further wandering, it was discovered that her own privacy levels had readjusted without her awareness.  It became obvious that the biological mother had recently visited Mom’s facebook wall and obtained photographs of the daughters – reposting them to her own “wall.”  She also noted that the biologic mother still had her daughters listed amongst her own “children” and named them by their full legal (& current) names.  Fast forwarding through 24 hours of emotional angst and fear brings us to -yet- another friend request she received.  This one come from a male biologic family member who allegedly sexually abused her children.

This scenario sounds like your worst nightmare, right?

Social Networking has become the chosen way many communicate in the 21st century. But, just like you’re advised when meeting strangers at clubs, school, or work — you are also advised to proceed with caution online. Networking sites such as MySpace, FriendWise, FriendFinder, Yahoo! 360, Facebook, Orkut, YouTube and Classmates are being accessed by the majority.  And as an agency, we are just realizing the potential of these sites and how they may impact the adoption community.  With just a little thought, one can envision reconnecting with biologic relatives whether they are in Texas, Canada or overseas.  Whether this possibility is appropriate for your family – is unique to each of you.  And, one you should prepare yourselves for.

The point of this story is to raise awareness, not fear.  Please consider the following tips and implement them if they are in the best interests of your family.

  1. Regardless of the site you use: adjust your privacy settings to match your level of comfort, and review them often. You can find detailed information on all of the privacy options offered specifically by Facebook here: http://www.facebook.com/privacy/explanation.php. To edit the privacy settings for your own Facebook account, choose the “Privacy Settings” option from the Account drop-down menu available from the top right corner of every page. From this page you can personalize your privacy settings for Profile Information, Contact Information, Applications and Websites, and Search. For more information on the privacy settings offered by Facebook as well as answers to common questions about privacy, please refer to the Privacy section of the Help Center.
  2. Don’t assume that your settings will forever remain as you set them.  Facebook redesigns itself on a regular basis and with these changes, your privacy settings also evolve.  It might be suddenly possible that your wall can be seen by anyone, that your photos can be used in advertisements, and that friends of friends can be privy to what you make public. Err on the side of caution and check your settings on a regular basis.
  3. Remember that you are role modeling social networking for your own children.  Age appropriately, they will likely become interested in it too.  Prepare yourself proactively for what this could mean for your family.  Doors may open before anyone is quite ready for them too.
  4. Populate social networking sites with content that you are confident in sharing.  Consider not posting your full name, address and phone number. Be cautious about posting information that could be used to identify you or locate you offline.

In summary: Be safe, be aware.

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