By Managing Editor Kara Apel, Alumna of the University of South Carolina
When a University of Central Florida student received a Facebook message from a former classmate, she didn't think it was weird at first.
Soon after, the classmate turned into a full-blown stalker, bombarding her through various social networking accounts and even called her 40 times in one day.
She eventually had to take her case to the courts and her stalker was put on probation for 15 years.
"The fear never leaves me," she said, according to this article in The Daily Mail. "It’s always going to be there and I’m always going to have to worry about something like this happening."
While every case isn't as extreme as this one, you still want to watch what you post. Even though you might know all of the people you become friends with on Facebook or accept as followers on Twitter, it doesn't mean that you can trust everyone you let view your social profiles.
Some people love to post their whereabouts at all times. This is ridiculous. Not only are you opening up the floor for someone who might want to stalk you, you're also letting criminals know when you're home or not. And even if you don't think a criminal would be looking at your profiles, think about it this way: Can you vouch that all of your online "friends" aren't friends with peopole that could be involved in criminal activity? Your friends might be able to look at your profile and let their friends know.
Now I'm not saying you can't ever post where you are — you just need to think before posting. If you're going out of town, it's probably not a good idea to let the world know your apartment will be unoccupied all weekend. My rule of thumb is to wait to post until AFTER I get back in town and say something like, "Had a great time in (insert place here) this weekend!" If you're just going to lunch with a friend and want to let everyone know you just had the most delicious meal of your life, wait until you leave the restaurant to post, "Had an amazing lunch with my bff at (fill in the blank)!" Both concepts help you prevent someone from easily being able to track your every move.
Many of my fellow students loved to post their schedules online as soon as they were able to sign up for their classes. While I understand you want to see if your friends are in your classes, this is never a good idea. Not only are you letting someone know where you'll be, you'll also be letting people know when you won't be in your dorm room. While all the people on your floor might seem cool, you never know who might be up to no good.
Another thing to check out is your Foursquare or Gowalla account. If you have an account, that's fine, but make sure it's private and you are only friends with people who you are close with. Also make sure it's not syncing up to your Facebook or Twitter accounts. You might not be intentionally posting your check-ins to your other accounts, but you don't want people being able to look up your every move.
If it doesn't feel right, then it probably isn't. If someone is making weird advances toward you that make you feel uncomfortable online, then block them. It is better to be safe than sorry, and least you'll know that they can't see your information.
Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net