For a while, I purposely avoided joining Facebook. I thought that by not having an account, I could better protect my privacy. As it turned out, I was wrong.
Several months ago, unbeknownst to me, someone set up a Facebook page with my name. I realize anyone can create an official page for a celebrity, campaign, or business. But this person, a high school student, took it too far. She assumed my identity. And, while posing as me, she had inane conversations with my “friends”—some of whom I personally knew; most of whom, I discovered, the culprit personally knew—fellow high school students who thought it was a lark to be privy to this inside joke.
It was only by fluke that I found out about this.
Recently, I was chatting with my niece and sister, informing them that I finally decided to take the plunge and join Facebook, so that I could communicate with colleagues across the country. “But Aunt Trudy,” my niece said, “you’re already on Facebook. Your picture’s there, you’re posting comments, and I’ve already ‘friended’ you.”
When she saw the incredulous look on my face, all my niece could say was, “Oh, that is so-o-o creepy.”
You bet I was creeped out. I also felt violated …and mad. I decided right then to channel my anger into action. With the help of my amazing sisters (one of whom is a licensed private investigator), we went commando on the Internet, tracked down the culprit, and got her to deactivate the page.
I was lucky. What that high school student had posted could have been much, much worse. Insidefacebook.com reports that more US females between the ages of 13 and 65 use Facebook than their male counterparts. Obviously Facebook is an extremely popular tool for females to connect and engage with their peers. But we all know that online posts can quickly morph into weapons of destruction, annihilating the self-esteem and dignity of girls and women when so-called “friends” publicly post untruths and spiteful comments, or share intimate, embarrassing details of themselves or their peers. And, as in my case, they also have the dangerous potential to ruin your reputation when others pretend they’re you.
What did I learn from this experience? We no longer live in the Age of Information; we live in the Age of Too Much Information. With the click of a mouse, I can find out more than I care or want to know about practically anyone or anything on the Internet. And the lines drawn between fact and fabrication, between moral responsibility and unethical behavior, have become increasingly blurred.
I’ve also learned that all of us leave little cyber footprints wherever we go. We can delete our comments and profiles, but we still leave tracks—including cache files floating around in cyberspace. Those files and FB screens can easily be captured, printed out, and saved as evidence, just in case.
What can you learn from my experience? It may be in your best interest to establish your own legitimate presence online. If you’re a FB newbie like me or already have an account, make sure you adjust your privacy settings to control who has access to your information. If you receive any hurtful or threatening messages, report it to Facebook immediately. Also consider setting up a Google Alert on your name so that you’ll receive email notifications whenever any reference to your name (the good, the bad, the ugly) shows up on the Internet.
Trudy Ludwig is a children’s advocate and best-selling author of children’s books that help kids cope and thrive in their social world. Her newest release, Confessions of a Former Bully, will be available in August 2010. For more information, visit Trudy’s website.