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Wise up on social networks - expert

17 February 2012, 16:50

Cape Town - Social network users should be more "street smart" on online networks to protect themselves, an expert has said.

"I think that social media users need to wise up a little; they need to become a little bit more sensible as digital citizens," social media consultant for Afrosocialmedia Samantha Fleming told News24.

She said that individuals should be cautious about putting personal content that could be damaging online.

"They need to realise that actually, you shouldn't put personal information online. Just because Facebook asks for your home address, doesn't mean you have to put it on, or if it asks for your age, you don't have to put it on," Fleming said.

Social Media Week has been addressing the impact of social media on companies and individuals, including an experiment to see whether one could survive dependant on one's social media graph.


But users continue to expose themselves to personal risk by posting content to their social networks without considering the wider impact it might have.

This month, a senior official at the Civil Aviation Authority was suspended over negative comments he wrote about superiors on Facebook.

South African socialite Khanyi Mbau has been mired in controversy since nude pictures of her were leaked online, reminiscent of the scandal involving New York congressman Anthony Weiner, who tweeted a sexually suggestive picture of himself.

Privacy is not as important for young people, Fleming said, but added that it made them potential victims of opportunistic crimes online.

"People these days, especially the next generation of users - I'm talking about young users - they don't have privacy concerns in a way that people in the past have had.

"Twenty-year-olds these days just don't have the same kinds of concerns for privacy. I understand it's a beautiful kind of transparency, but it also opens you up to abuse: things like identity theft or phishing or scamming."

She added that companies may exploit a lack of privacy on social networks to mine data for advertising purposes.

Targeted advertising

"People need to be a bit more aware that they need to be cautious about what they put out there and what they put online, because a company will take it and they will use it for advertising purposes if nothing else.

"Facebook's open graph is designed with advertising and marketing in mind," said Fleming.

Some young people don't mind targeted advertising if they have a specific interest, but Fleming cautioned against this approach.

"I do think that what gets lost in that is a sense of savvy, like a street smarts about what you should and shouldn't do online."


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