The purpose of Facebook is to provide members the opportunity to make connections with old friends, meet new friends and engage in various online social activities with people in their networks. But it can also serve as a way for predators to find potential victims. Facebook has tweaked its privacy settings to make it easier for people to choose who can and can't access information on their profiles. But the purpose of any social network is to create a way for people to find you. Otherwise, why join a social network?
While Facebook has policies that forbid offensive and dangerous material, it's impossible for the site to prevent anyone from posting something offensive. Users can post links, videos, messages and other content to their profiles and, depending upon privacy settings, the profiles of their Facebook friends. Some of that material might violate Facebook's policies.
Facebook allows members to block anyone who posts inappropriate or offensive material to their own profile pages. Users can also flag content as offensive and Facebook has a team of professionals who review the site for anything that violates Facebook policies. Still, inappropriate material does find its way onto the site regularly.
On top of those concerns are privacy issues. Users can choose how much information to share with the rest of the world. If a user opts for a public profile, anyone searching for that person might be able to see information ranging from the user's birthday to his or her home address and phone number. Other information might include what school the user goes to and who the user's friends are.
Facebook leaves much of user safety in the user's hands. It's up to the individual person to adjust his or her privacy settings. Facebook can't stop someone from sharing too much personal information or posting something that might bring them into harm's way. Facebook suggests parents talk to their children about Web safety. The site also mentions that parents may want to install monitoring software on their children's computers to keep track of the sites kids visit.
Parents may want to research kid-friendly social networking sites and reserve access to Facebook for a time when their children are old enough to use it safely. In many ways, Facebook serves as a microcosm for the Web in general. With education, guidance and communication, Facebook can be a safe and fun way to stay in touch with friends. But without those elements, kids could run into trouble.
For more on Facebook and other social networking sites, follow the links on the next page.