The Internet is just like every place else on the planet — it is populated with good people and bad people. There are also assorted nut jobs, angry loners and the criminally insane, and it isn’t always easy to sort them out.
Using social media adds a whole new level of complexity to playing it safe.
A couple of weeks ago I accidentally accepted a "friend" request on Facebook from a person who I have had some contact with.
I won’t go into the details because I don’t want any more trouble, but accepting the friendship request turned out to be a poor choice. He joined a conversation and wrote some things on my wall that none of us liked.
It is wise to know who our Facebook friends are. I am finding that I don’t know many of mine and am reluctant to respond to friend requests from total strangers. I tell everyone that I don’t like people and that I am not a people person.
Social media has made me a bit antisocial. I take advantage of the privacy settings and post some of my updates to a friends and family list that I created so that they are not seen by the friends I don’t know.
As we use Twitter and write blog posts, there are people who lurk and read. They learn a lot about us. Some are just lonely or bored or curious, and others are dangerous. We can be anyone we want to be on the Internet, and so can they.
I recently found a phone app with a sort of Twitter radar that will show people who are posting on Twitter in a given area on a nice map. It is all real-time. I am fascinated with the concept and afraid of it at the same time. It would be fun to lurk on it and watch, but I am not comfortable with the idea of being watched.
A website called Please Rob Me has featured Foursquare "check-ins," which announce a person’s present location. The idea was that someone could watch to see when someone checks in at a local business and then they could go burglarize that person’s home.
Personally, I thought that was kind of silly because when I leave my home that doesn’t mean that no one else is there and it doesn’t mean there isn’t an alarm system.
But the website was trying to illustrate the point that publicly broadcasting our location isn’t always safe, and the site made us all more aware of the possible dangers of public check-ins.
Foursquare potentially holds more danger for us when it is synced with Twitter, as it can broadcast our location using that site, too. It is easy to follow people on Twitter without ever hitting the follow button.
There are times when I check in on Foursquare but I don’t broadcast it on Twitter or Facebook and there are other times when I don’t check in on Foursquare at all, for safety or for business reasons.
Maybe I don’t want my clients to see that I am lounging on a beach while their home languishes on the market.
I like to go out and take photos at night. I have resisted the temptation to use Twitter or Foursquare, even though I could easily become the mayor of a couple local bridges.
It would be fairly easy for someone to find me through social media and separate me from some expensive camera equipment. The trick is to blend into the night and become invisible and not call attention to myself.
Last week, as I was riding in the car and we were headed to northern Minnesota, I was playing with a Foursquare app. I noticed that there are homes listed on Foursquare. There are names and addresses and it says, "my house."
I looked and I could see when people checked into their own homes. The home check-ins were consistent. It wouldn’t be hard to figure out when someone is coming home and meet them there or when they are gone.
I had thought about having some fun with it and checking in at some of the homes just to see how the owners would react, but I decided not to. The idea appeals to me and I may try it if I find someone who I know with their home listed on Foursquare.
Foursquare is a wonderful way to promote local businesses, and it is fun to check and see where friends are. Twitter is a great way to get local news and for networking, and even as a communications tool.
Facebook helps us keep in touch with most anyone. Any of these applications can be used for good or for evil.
If you have a social media plan, make safety part of the plan. I will be watching and may even check in at your house sometime while you are out with clients.