Facebook. Great for connecting, but you do have to be careful.
You have to pay attention to privacy and security on Facebook, otherwise you can make not only yourself but also your Facebook friends vulnerable to opportunistic people.
Have you ever had that thing happen to you, on Facebook, where you receive a friend request from Sheri Steilmann (a made-up name), you think: “What? I thought Sheri was my friend already”; you shrug, puzzled, accept the request, and then all kinds of weird stuff starts appearing on your page. Oh no! It wasn’t Sheri (who was indeed already your friend), it was someone who had stolen her identity, created a copycat Sheri Steilmann page, and is working through her Friends list sending out friend requests.
Once you have discovered this, you can block the offending person and report them to Facebook. Save their URL before you delete them, so Facebook can identify and block them. Make sure you get the false Sheri so the real one doesn’t get reported and blocked!
When this happens it’s all very depressing and embarrassing – it happened to me a few years ago before I got wise to it, it’s happened to lots of my friends, and of course people who are new to Facebook are much more likely to be taken in.
There are two things you can do to protect yourself and your friends against this kind of thing. These measures are especially important if you have lots of friends.
I’m assuming you have already attended to your privacy levels and ensured that only your friends can see your posts. Otherwise the entire world can listen in to your conversations.
Let’s imagine you have loads of Facebook friends – say, 285 – only some of whom you know personally. You accepted lots of requests when you were new, before you got cagey and choosy. You can’t stand some of them and hate their posts, so you turned off notifications for them. You might not even be friends with them, because they might have unfriended you. You have no idea. You don’t like them and never check. Eventually you forget they even exist. So, when you get a friend request from them, you don’t know who they are, though their name seems vaguely familiar.
At this point – make it a habit every time you receive a friend request, to check. Check if they are already on your list. If they are, it’s a copycat; don’t accept the request. If they are not already on your list, check the Facebook page of the person who’s sent you the request. If their security and privacy are tight so you can see hardly anything, send them a message asking who they are, how they found you and why they want to be your friend. Be careful who you accept as a friend, because people can find out a lot about you, your family and your Facebook friends and their families – Facebook friendship makes people vulnerable; you have to be sure you can trust the people you befriend. Bear in mind that your friends will trust them because they are friends with you.
So the first thing you can do is check before you accept.
The second thing you can do is attend to the privacy settings on your friends list. This is separate from your general privacy settings. If you inadvertently, unfortunately, embarrassingly let in a copycat identity, the damage they can do is limited if your friends list privacy is at the setting where only you can see it.
I have a friend on Facebook who has over 2000 friends. I know, because I scrolled down and looked at them. A lot of them look like trusting, not especially savvy types. I clicked on a few of them and looked at their pages, learned a lot about their lives and families. Most of them had about 300 friends.
If I were an unscrupulous person, I could take advantage of that to terrible effect. I bet my friend with 2000 friends can’t remember who they all are. I bet if I copied an identity of one of her friends who lives in a different country, the chances are she wouldn’t know them personally or remember they were already a friend. I bet she’d accept if I sent a friend request under the assumed identity. And if I picked an ID with a bad headshot of a woman in a covering, I’d come across as trustworthy to people who don’t know me.
Then, because I can see all her friends, I could send them friend requests. They’d see a nice woman in a headcovering and accept me. I’d work through all their friends lists in the same way. Hacker’s playground. I could find out all sorts of stuff about them, make all kinds of mischief.
You can’t entirely stop that kind of thing happening by setting high privacy controls on your friends list, but it at least effects some damage limitation.
So, if that appeals to you as a plan, here’s what you do.
Go to your Facebook page. Click on your “Friends”.
When your Friends page opens, look below the row of People You May Know mugshots, to the header bar that says Friends in big letters. At the right-hand end of that header bar is the little pencil icon to manage the list. Click on that. An option to Edit Privacy will come up. Click on that.
You will bring up a menu allowing you to edit the privacy controls determining who can see your friends list, and who can see the people and lists you follow. So now you can choose. Mine are set to Only Me.
Therefore, if a friend of mine has not checked before accepting a friend request, and has unwittingly given some unsavoury being access to our private conversations, though they may be able to see me, at least they won’t have access to my friends lists.
Of course, privacy is still breached, but at least some boundaries remain in place.
If your friends list runs into the hundreds and even thousands, I do recommend you consider doing this.