Law enforcement officers and Facebook

In May of 2012, Texas Corrections Sgt. Heath Lara was fired for “friending” an inmate on Facebook. Sgt. Lara appealed, claiming that he went to high school with the inmate, and had no idea the man was incarcerated. Lara was successful in his appeal...

If you do use your own name, control who can find your profile (or Timeline, as Facebook now calls it). On your home page (wall) click on the arrow next to your name. Choose the “Privacy Settings” option from the drop-down menu. Next to the heading “How you connect,” click on “Edit Settings.”

You can choose who can look you up using the contact information you provided on your profile (which, because you’re smart, will not include your phone number), who can send you friend requests, and who can send you Facebook messages. For those three categories, the options are the same: Everyone, Friends, or Friends of Friends.

When someone does find you, and sends you a “Friend Request,” carefully consider your actual relationship with that person, before clicking “Confirm.” Have you had any face-to-face contact with that person within the last 6 months? The last year? What do you really know about that person? Will “friending” that person add quality to your life? Will not “friending” them have any negative effect on you at all?

If you’re torn about whether or not to add someone, run a quick Google name check. Some states have offender registries, which will tell you if they’re currently incarcerated. It takes less than a minute, yet could spare you untold grief.

Block apps

Your name, profile picture, email address and friends list can be exposed to the public when you play games, take quizzes, or click on website links from your Facebook profile. Your friends can unknowingly take your information with them into apps and other sites, just by going there themselves, unless you take measures to prevent it. From the “Privacy Settings” menu, select the “Ads, Apps and Websites” option. Click on “Edit Settings.” From there you can choose which apps, if any, you’ll allow to access your personal information. The safest option here is to choose “Turn off.” That will prevent you from using apps on Facebook, but it is the only way to really safeguard your profile from unauthorized access by sites which could undermine the other steps you’ve taken to control who views your information.

Control who can see your photos

Whenever you post a photo, you can choose whether to make it viewable by the public, your friends, or friends of friends. After you’ve uploaded your photo, click on the “Edit” option. There, you’ll see a drop-down menu which allows you to choose the audience for each photo.

Whichever option you choose, remember that it’s always best to play it safe. Don’t tag your children, especially if they’re wearing sports uniforms or anything that could indicate the school they attend. Likewise, be wary of what’s in the background of the photos—don’t upload a photo of your child/friends/loved ones in front of his/her school, your house, or even anywhere they regularly spend time. You do not want strangers to know how to find them.

Control who can see your old posts

Now that you’re more informed about the ways in which you can safeguard your privacy while using Facebook, you might want to change who can see your old posts. From the “Privacy Settings” screen, under the heading, “Limit the Audience for Past Posts”, click on “Manage Past Post Visibility.” That will change the settings on all of your old posts so that only your friends will be able to see them.

Delete your profile

If you still feel as if you’re too exposed on Facebook, you can delete your profile. Your friends will still be able to tag you in their photos, but your wall will not be visible any more. From your wall, click on the arrow next to the word “Home.” On the drop-down menu click on “Account Settings.” Toward the bottom of the page, find and click on the words, “Deactivate your Account.” You will be asked to give your reason for deactivating, and there are several options from which to choose. There is also the option, “Other,” which, if chosen, requires you to write an explanation. Click on whichever option you wish, scroll to the bottom of the page, and click on “Confirm.”

Here are a few other common-sense tips to keep you on the safe side, and out of IA:

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