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Think Before Posting Your Info Online

On the heels of the Federal Trade Commission issuing its first alert to parents and kids about the potential dangers of social interaction online, The Early Show national correspondent Tracy Smith points to another potential pitfall of posting personal information on the Internet.

In the third and final installment of the series "Too Much Information" on Wednesday, Smith

that what you say about yourself, photos you share, and similar actions could haunt you for years.

When you create a profile on popular Web sites such as MySpace or Facebook, Smith says you're sharing pictures and intimate details with millions of people; not only friends, but also police, the FBI, parents, teachers, prospective employers, pornographers, advertisers, even the media.



Click here for online safety tips for parents and teens

Smith spoke with University of Washington students Courtland Beale and Abhi Banerjee, who are being probed by the school as a result of pictures Beale posted of a Super Bowl party in Beale's university apartment in February. The images were put onto Facebook, a popular social networking site for students.

The pictures showed cups from which school officials presumed alcoholic beverages were being consumed.

A week later, a housing administrator saw the pictures and opened an inquiry.

The investigation into underage drinking led to a summons and penalties, which led to discussions about eviction. But, angered by the ordeal, Beale picked up and moved out.

"I don't need a pair of eyes, you know, on me, when I'm inside my apartment," he told Smith.

Facebook, the collegiate version of MySpace, limits membership to those with e-mail addresses ending with "edu."

Beale gave access to his profile to thousands of students, and even faculty, but not the administrative staff. They looked anyway.

"I feel," Beale says, "that the staff has basically taken the lock on the diary, and taken bolt cutters and just snapped it to, you know, look to see what we're doing, which I don't think is right."

"It's kind of like big brother," says Banerjee. "They're spying on us or whatever. … It's a policing action."

The university says it doesn't troll Facebook or the Web "but, if we are trying to resolve an issue with a student, and we become aware of additional information that we can legitimately access, then we may decide to do so."

Experts say schools across the country are using Facebook and MySpace images as grounds for discipline and expulsion, and college admissions offices are using them to narrow down their choices, a rude awakening for kids who thought they were just having fun.

"In a very competitive atmosphere, trying to get into a good school, into the right team, to get the right scholarship, do you really want your public persona to be the drunken slut that you said you are on MySpace?" asks WiredSafety.org Executive Director Parry Aftab. "Unless you're willing to take your MySpace or other profile and attach it to your college application, don't post it publicly."

Employers are scanning Web postings as well, Smith says.

Ellen Simonetti was fired from her job as a Delta Airlines flight attendant after posing, in uniform, for pictures some might consider somewhat provocative in an empty plane and posting them on her blog.

Like many who post on the Internet, she presumed only a handful of people could see it.

"I was completely shocked" by her firing, Simonetti told Smith. "There was no warning. And then I took the pictures down and I thought that would resolve things. And obviously, it didn't."

Delta says it doesn't comment on personnel issues.

Racy photos can also do severe harm to the chances of finding a job, Smith says.

"Your career can be sabotaged without you even knowing it, in a nanosecond," warns Chicago-based recruiter Christine Hirsch.

The Web has become a cheap and easy source of information for recruiters, according to Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum: "It was a very big trend even a year ago, but now it's just part of the game."

And, she adds, once those pictures are on the internet, they're out there: "The dirty little secret about social networking sites is that they're archived, which means they're saved forever … There is a cottage industry of businesses right now that are kind of mushrooming, and their entire function is to archive material that's on the Web. … If you put your profile up on the Web and you've left it up there for 48 to 72 hours, the chances are that it's already been archived somewhere."

"Stop for a minute, think for a minute," Aftab urges. "What you post online stays online."

What's more, Smith points out, these sites own the rights to your pictures once you post them.

TIPS TO STAY SAFE ONLINE
Provided by Parry Aftab of WiredSafety.org.

For Parents:

  • Don't panic! Your kids can use social networks safely.
  • Talk to your kids. The more you go over what should and shouldn't be shared online, the safer your kids will be.
  • Repeat after me: "I am the parent!" Don't worry more about your kids' privacy than their safety. Set your rules and make your kids adhere to them. If they don't, turn off the Internet. They'll come around fast!
  • It's not reading their diary. A diary is between your kid and the paper diary stored in their sock drawer. An open MySpace profile is the equivalent of a billboard on the superhighway. The rule is not that everyone can see it but parents.
  • Don't believe everything you see online, especially if your kids post it on MySpace. They say things designed to make them seem more cool or daring. Many post things that aren't true.
  • Tell your kids you want to see their MySpace profile — tomorrow. The day's notice will make this an educational experience for them, instead of a "gotcha" one. They will spend hours taking down anything they fear you will find objectionable, and they will learn from it. After the first warning, though, you are free to review it with them anytime.
  • It takes a village: Wok with your school and other parents to help keep them all safer online.

    Also, be aware that their friends frequently put them at risk unknowingly by posting too much of your kids' personal information on their own profiles.

    Remove it: If you decide that your child's profile needs to come down, but they used a fake e-mail address when they set it up, you need a special process that MySpace worked out with WiredSafety.org. This procedure is needed because MySpace sends the codes you need to remove a profile to the e-mail address the kids used when they set up the account, many of which are faked by the kids.

    For Teens:

  • Don't post anything on MySpace that your parents, principal and a predator shouldn't see. And check over your friends' profiles to make sure they're safe, too.
  • Password protect everything and guard your password. MySpace gives special privacy controls to kids 14 and 15. Give your correct age, so you can be protected.
  • Colleges and grad schools, and some scholarship committees and employers are searching for their applicants on sites such as MySpace. Are you really putting your best foot forward? Think of it as if you're attaching your MySpace to your college application.
  • Morph or blur your pictures so a cyber-bully or predator can't misuse them. And get your friends' OK before posting their images on MySpace.
  • Don't do or say anything online that you wouldn't offline. Nothing is anonymous on MySpace. They can trace all comments and posts to your computer.
  • What you post online stays online forever! Playing the drunken slut or posing with five bottles of beer in your mouth at the same time might have been a good idea at the time, but you never know who copied your post, cloned it, printed it out, or archived it. If you post it, you will have to live with it.
  • That cute 14-year-old boy may not be cute, may not be 14 and may not be a boy! You never really know. ThinkB4uClick! And never go alone to an offline meeting.
  • Think about joining TeenAngels.org and becoming part of the solution.
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