I was talking to a friend today, who was interested in the two research papers on MySpace we’ve written. He posed two major questions: “What is the worst piece of information that an adolescent can reveal on their profile page?” and “What is the biggest single suggestion you can give to promote safety among youth who use social networking sites?” I thought they were worthy of discussion here.
Basically, there is no worst piece of information a youth can reveal. However, we highly recommend they do not post information that can be used to contact them directly, such as phone number, email address, and instant message screenname. It is important because it reduces one’s vulnerability to being directly contacted by strangers with perverse or malicious motives. Also, we caution against revealing the name of your school and your city. People who know you will know your school and city, and so there is no need to advertise that information to others. The biggest single suggestion we give is that all youth set their profile page to “private” or otherwise restrict its viewing to only those they have approved as “friends.” Also, we recommend that before you approve someone as a “friend,” you know them in real life (offline). This is easier to do on some sites (e.g., Facebook) than others (e.g., MySpace). Carelessly approving anyone and everyone as a “friend” so that you can run up your “friend” count is just not wise. Research has shown that it is generally much more likely that youth will be abducted, physically or sexually assaulted, or otherwise victimized by a friend or acquaintance than by a stranger.
By the way, one of our articles has been published in Journal of Adolescence, and the other is in peer-review…if you’d like to read either, please drop us a note. In these articles, we’ve shared data-based trends in how youth are using that site and revealing personal information that may render them susceptible to harm. They also provide useful strategies for prevention and education.