Information Disclosure on Social Networking Web Sites


As many of you know, we became interested in social networking web sites (MySpace and Facebook) several years ago when we had heard examples of cyberbullying occurring in those environments.  Since then, we have done quite a bit of research looking at the kinds of information adolescents post on their public profiles.  We published one article in the Journal of Adolescence and have a follow-up manuscript that is in the final stages of review with another journal detailing this study.  What we’ve learned is that most adolescents are actually fairly responsible with the type of information they post on their profiles.  That said, of course there are many who include too much personal, private, or provocative information on their profiles.

In our presentations to students we always talk about responsibility (broadly speaking) and point out the ways in which too much information posted on a public page can lead to trouble.  We talk about how cyberbullies or online predators could use the information to cause them harm and how future employers and college admissions counselors are often using information found online to make decisions.  We also point out that law enforcement regularly reviews social networking web sites to look for information about individuals when conducting routine background investigations.  As this story published in the New York Post points out, the NYPD is going a step further and requiring police recruits to provide access to even those profiles that are set to “private,” or otherwise restricted to friends only.  Clearly this is just another reason to be careful with the information and pictures you put on your profile.  Of course it is difficult to get teenagers to think about the long-term consequences of ANY of their actions…

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