Sunday, August 4, 2013

Online Dating Safety: Your Social Media Accounts

As a social media consultant, everyday I work with clients on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+.  These accounts need to be open, chock full of information, and constantly updated to connect with the right potential clients and customers.  And, since I practice what I preach, I am very active on all social media platforms both personally and professionally.  Early in my online dating adventure, I quickly realized how easy it would be for a potential date to view my life and just this weekend I received confirmation that you can never be too careful. 

On Plenty of Fish, I connected with a man who lived far away.   We took the time to get to know one another and eventually arranged a date when our travels were going to bring us geographically closer together.  We did hit it off, but the distance was prohibitive and we parted ways quickly.  This weekend I was up in that same region visiting a friend.  You can imagine my surprise when I woke up this past Sunday morning to a text message from that guy “hey there, how is Sunnydale?”  I was stunned. How did he know I was there?   My mind started to race until it dawned on me, as I arrived in town I made a few stops and checked in on FourSquare which updates to my Twitter account.  He was either following me on Twitter/Foursquare or just looked at my tweets since my account is open to the public. 

Is it possible to maintain an active life on social media but yet remain closed to those you may not want to eyes on your life just yet or at all?  Well sort of, and here are some tips and things for you to think about: 

1.      When you start the online dating process lock down your personal social media accounts. For most of us, this means taking the time to go into the privacy settings and ensure your account can only be viewed by your friends.  You can even hide from anyone who is not your friend (but you need to decide if that is acceptable because then you cannot be found at all). You can also hide and/or delete information on where you live and work.  You have to set your privacy settings at a level that is comfortable for you.  But remember, safety is your key concern.  

2.       If you have not already done so, make sure your children’s accounts are completely private.  All settings should be changed so that they must approve all friends on all social media accounts. I would be most concerned about Twitter and Instagram which can be quite anonymous and profiles are typically open.  All walls (including all posts, tweets, pictures, and shares) should only be visible to friends.  Also, when possible, their list of friends should be hidden as well.  Make it clear to your children that they should not accept any friend requests from strangers.  I would not start off this conversation with "Dad is dating online and we need to make sure that the wackos out there can not access your information."  A general conversation about internet safety should do the trick.  

3.       Make sure your own list of friends is private on every platform, or at least only visible to your friends.  If a prospective date has access to your list of friends and you are friends with your children….well, you can see where I am going here.  Also, you don’t ever want to give anyone access to your friends too soon.  Who knows what they could do with the information. 

4.       If you are staying open, be careful what you post.  You want to limit the pictures, general information about you, as well as your thoughts.  Also, be careful if you are a check-in junkie.  You don’t want strangers to know you are “watching my son’s baseball practice at Ramsey Field,” or “Hosting the annual class party for Valentine’s Day at ABC School.”  Both of these check-ins just told people where you hang out and where they can find your children. 

5.       Never friend or follow any person until you are in a committed relationship, and even then wait some time.  Thoroughly check them out before giving them access to your life.  Let’s say you meet someone and you think it is a great idea to friend them on Facebook because you want to learn all about their life.  The trade-off is that they now also have access to your entire life including pictures, posts, and general information. 

So how did I manage my social media accounts while online dating?  As an active member of many social media platforms I had many choices to make.  At the exact same time I started looking for love online I also started my social media consulting company.  I decided to keep my Facebook page completely private on all fronts since I am very active there on a very personal level.  All other accounts are open but I was, and still remain incredibly cautious.  I only check-in when I am leaving a location and never from a place where my children take lessons or hang-out. 

I realize that this all sounds very paranoid – good, be paranoid.  You can never be to careful.  

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