Think twice before you post that pic on your MySpace

What's the point of posting to social networks? It's fun, for awhile, and you might actually meet some cool people. But, some feel, the risks far outweigh the benefits.

Words of warning about the dangers of social networks. Steve Kerrison writes on the Hexus Community that by posting personal details on social networks, students are creating great risks of identity theft, privacy loss, and embarassing themselves out of future job opportunities.

He cites a warning by Prof. Nigel Smart of the University of Bristol (UK): "I am concerned that from some of the posts I have seen, by colleagues, students and others, that there is a deep societal problem emerging of people giving up their privacy without realising it".

Chat rooms used to be considered a prime privacy worry but they were effectively abandoned as worries about sexual predators rose.

Then came what some people like to call 'Web 2.0'. On that wave of "let's pretend we've upgraded the Internet, LOL" came the social-networking websites... along with those terrible pages of drivel people like to call 'blogs'. It became cool to talk about mundane things and show other people what had been happening in your life. In essence, all the chat room goers had something to do once again.

So where's the problem in that? People treat users on their social-networking 'friends lists' just like their normal friends. They'll chat to them, share details from their lives, show them photos... do stuff friends do. People are comfortable with that. Problem is, they're too comfortable.

Bitching down the phone to someone about somebody else is a fairly common occurrence amongst friends, so socially, it's quite acceptable to do the very same with online friends, right? Yes, except unlike a phone call, it isn't private. Interestingly, you could probably get away with it in a chat room; they were essentially anonymous, but social networking is much more personal; the anonymity is all but gone. Fancy being sued for libel? How about initiating a police inquiry, or an investigation by the board of your educational establishment? It could happen, if you say or post the wrong things.

Carried away by the charge of having a lot of MySpace friends and getting attention by posting racy or besotted photos, students will find themselves feeding their personal privacy and reputation into the web search spiders. " Once something appears on the Internet, it's almost impossible to remove. Within minutes, chances are a search engine will crawl it, then that search engine will cache it, so that even if the page changes, the original content will still be there, for a while, at least."

Social networking users need to take a step back and think about just what they're posting onto the Internet. It'll probably be too late for a number of people, and it'll take a lot more 'victims' of the lack of privacy before most users actually start heeding these warnings. Just beware that anything posted online to your friends now, could very easily come back to haunt you in days, months, or even years to come.