Tech Talk: Face to Face with Facebook

Build friendships and your reputation on Facebook.

By Jeff Bailey

Do you use Facebook? I do. I use it to stay in touch with family and friends, and I can honestly say it has brought me an incredible amount of pleasure. There is nothing like reconnecting with old friends – and your chances of bumping into one on Facebook are pretty good. More than 500 million people use the social-networking Web site, each with an average of 130 friends. Seventy percent – or 350 million – of these users are located outside the United States.

Facebook and other social media are changing society in dramatic ways. My daughter recently graduated from high school and on the way home from the ceremony her grandfather smugly pointed out that in 10 years, she would not remember her high school friends. She disagreed, saying, “Yes, I will. We have Facebook!” You know what? She’s right. There is a good chance that she and her friends will stay in touch forever.

On the other hand, many people are afraid to use social networks for one reason: privacy. That single word keeps them from joining and enjoying a whole new world. Facebook seems to be especially hard-hit by privacy concerns. This site changes its privacy policies so often, it’s difficult to stay up to date. Many people are anxious about their ability to effectively manage privacy settings – the controls determining who can see your personal information. In response, the social networking site strengthened and simplified its privacy protections for users. Today, it’s fairly safe to visit and establish a presence on Facebook. The trick is to recognize that this is a public forum, which will help you know what to write and what to leave out.

Also, Facebook has massive databases that store the information you enter into its systems. Some fear that the company, and others like it, can mine this data and learn more about you than you want them to know.

I really enjoy using Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other forms of social networking and don’t plan to close my accounts any time soon. You shouldn’t, either. Follow these three guidelines to protect yourself:

1. Make sure you understand and control your Facebook privacy settings. People who use Twitter understand that anyone can read what they are saying; there is little expectation of privacy. With Facebook, you might assume that there is privacy. Assuming is dangerous. Read Facebook’s Privacy Policy and then check your own privacy settings. To do the latter, open the “Account” menu on the upper right-hand side of your home page and select the “Privacy Settings” menu item.

2. Assume that everyone can see what you put on Facebook. Even though you have checked your security settings, it pays to plan what goes online. Never post anything you wouldn’t want the world to see (including employers). Be smart! Don’t include any information or photos that could embarrass you. On the other hand, it’s also an opportunity to put your best face forward. Post a profile that shows off your social and intellectual skills in a positive light. In this way, you can impress employers and potential employers with your polished writing and professional demeanor.

3. Think before you click – especially in allowing requests that seem unusual. From time to time, rogue computer programs pose a threat. The Web-based service shortens universal resource locators (URL). The URL is made of letters, numbers and other characters that you type into your browser. URL shorteners were developed so that Twitter users wouldn’t have to waste their 140 characters on a long URL. One problem with these shortened URLs is that you cannot tell where they will take you. One rogue application that made the rounds took its victims to a Facebook page that prompted them to allow access to their profiles. Never allow anything like this to access your profile. If you stay with the basics and click URLs that show where they lead, you’ll find plenty of fun activities to keep you busy.
Now that you know how to stay safe, go out there and have fun! 

Jeff Bailey is a computer consultant and trainer in Cary, North Carolina. He writes about presentation skills on his blog, Wired Presentations. Reach him at or on Twitter at