Saturday, 30 July 2016

About being cautious on Facebook

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.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Night falling

I love our home as the evening deepens and the darkness falls. The people retreat to their personal rooms – and all of us are quiet, so the house fills with silence. Not even beds creaking, because we sleep on the floor. Most of us don’t close the doors to our rooms (to let the cats come and go), so lamplight glows into the corridor. Some rooms have internal windows into the passageway, and Alice has made stained glass panels for two of them – so when the lamps are lit in the evening, they illuminate the coloured windows.

The passageways – both upstairs and down – are almost empty; no clutter, nothing left lying around, hardly any furnishings; a set of shelves by the door of one room upstairs, a bodhisattva, some coat pegs on the wall, some shelves for the telephone apparatus downstairs. Otherwise just spaciousness and peace.

Through uncluttered rooms, open doors, big windows, moonlight enters the silence. It feels like reverence.

Outside, as the wing of night folds down, dusk grows more shadowy. Flowers shining blue in the twilight gradually vanish into fragrant shapes. The night animals come for the food scraps we put down. The moon rises, the stars and planets shine clear. The day is done.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Coming Home


I was going to write a post about the intensification of the situation in Russia – the accumulating of Nato troops on the border, the UK and US provocation and acts of aggression, the dangers this poses to the lives of all of us. If you want to read about it – and I recommend you do – there are articles here and here and here and here and here and here.

I’ve been putting it off, putting it off – and in the end I just knew I couldn’t write it. I am so heart-sick right now, so grieved, at the foul stench of Mammon coming off British politics. The unprincipled, two-faced, back-stabbing jostling for supremacy and position. The unaccountability, irresponsibility, the disregard for the poor and vulnerable, the greed for money and power. It wrings me through and through every day. It breaks my heart. I wouldn’t know where to begin. I am grieved and ashamed, and so sad. I came to the place where my mind is just slipping off it all out of simple self-preservation.

So I thought I’d tell you about this instead.

In September I’m offering another Quiet Day at peaceful and beautiful Penhurst Place, deep in the Sussex countryside. A place to heal and find your sanity, if ever there was one!

It’s on September 9th, running from 10.00am to 4.00pm, and our subject this time is “Coming Home”.

In Buddhist spirituality, “Leaving Home” is the term applied to what I think Western psychologist would term individuation. When we leave behind all we have been taught, all that has been instilled in us, to make our own personal journey of discovery – to make up our own minds and go our own way.

The Buddha was a prince. As a boy, his father kept him very sheltered in the confines of his palace, knowing nothing of poverty, sickness, old age or death. He left home to satisfy his intense curiosity about the world, and learned about its sorrows.

Then he had to do the long, patient soul work of evolving his response.

As well as “Leaving Home”, Buddhists talk about “Coming Home” – when you return to where you started from, but everything is different because you yourself are different now. You have changed, and cannot see things as you did when you set out on your journey.

Thinking about this, it occurred to me that the Prodigal Son made this exact journey – of Leaving Home and Coming Home; of discovering his true priorities, in the face of the sorrow and sufferings life brings.

So I thought it would be interesting to explore Leaving Home and Coming Home in our own lives. What is “home” to you, and to me? In what senses have we “left home” in our own lives, setting out from the security of the familiar to find our own path in life? What were the sorrows and sufferings we encountered on the way? Where are we right now on that journey? And what does it mean to “come home”? Where is home now, for you, and for me, if it is true that “here we have no abiding city”, how can we come home to ourselves, to God?

So that’s what we’ll be thinking about; and you will be most welcome to join us. Just get in touch with Storm and Richard at Penhurst if you think you’d like to be part of that conversation.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016


Hunting through the archives on a data stick – came across this poem I wrote a few years ago.

Slip sideways into my soul almost unnoticed the world’s cry

A t-shirt thin from years of wear and washing.
Defeat sagging his shoulders.
Fat (shameful, embarrassing): no-one wants to be fat.
Sitting on the bench with his small son on his knee, his hands gentle around the child,
holding him safe,
his face held tenderly against his boy’s head;
both of them looking towards the horizon, across the inscrutable beauty of the ocean, its body of unfathomable mystery defying imagination.
At the moment I pass, the wind carries his words to me; the wisdom of his generation, father to son, the answer of his soul
for his child’s questioning. 
‘Dunno,’ he is saying.

Slip sideways into my soul almost unnoticed the world’s cry

Another day, cold and tempestuous,
the clouds tossing and the spray flying;
at the roadside,
watching the bus ticket
the wind snatched out of his hand
blow through the relentless traffic
across the road and away.
Beyond dignity, reduced to childhood
 ‘It’s not fair!’ he cries out and stamps in rage; tries desperately to thread the indifferent stream of cars and chase the wind for its prey.

Slip sideways into my soul almost unnoticed the world’s cry

Bleak morning of deluging rain
Everyone is shivering, faces like masks
As the hearse draws up
One teenage girl clutches crazy
Burying her face in his shoulder, crying out
 ‘I can’t do this! I can’t! I can’t do this!’
The anguish wraps tightly round us
like barbed wire.

Slip sideways into my soul almost unnoticed the world’s cry

I think maybe they do not feel
your quiet eyes beholding,
your listening to the voice of the world;
taking them seriously.

Slip sideways into my soul almost unnoticed the world’s cry

© Penelope Wilcock 2008