Tag Archives: social media

Is Facebook Biased?

By Tracey Dowdy

By now we’ve all heard the allegations that Facebook is manipulating what shows up in your newsfeed, particularly in the trending topics. Is the story a storm in a teacup – an almost welcome respite from the endless election coverage – or is there an actual bias in what we see?

The answer is yes and no.

Consider these statistics:

  • There are 7 billion people on earth
  • Of those 7 billion, 3 billion have access to the Internet
  • Of those 3 billion, 1.65 billion are active users of Facebook

If that doesn’t tell you the scope of Facebook’s influence, consider that a recent report by comScore reveals 20 percent of all mobile time is spent on the Facebook app; 63 percent of Americans see Facebook as their primary news source; and 31 percent rely on Facebook for breaking news. That, my friends, is a lot of influence. Manipulating content is a serious allegation.

We know Facebook uses algorithms to curate your newsfeed, so you see more of who and what you like. That makes sense – the more you see that appeals to you, the longer you stay on Facebook.

Where things get murky is that it’s not just algebraic formulas that determine the content you see. Those algorithms track what’s being talked about based on key words, phrases and how frequently they appear, then human editors take that information and use their own judgment to decide what gets pushed and how to frame the story. That naturally impacts the content we see.

As a publicly traded company Facebook is constantly looking for ways to generate income, meaning it frequently introduces new features in an attempt to keep you engaged. It recently added “Live Video” so you’ve likely started to see notifications like “Jim Gaffigan is live right now,” with the hope you’ll jump in and see what’s happening but ultimately keeping you on Facebook longer.

Facebook relies on ten news organizations for content: (BBC News, CNN, Fox News, The Guardian, NBC News, The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Yahoo and Yahoo News. According to the allegations, some editors either blacklisted or highlighted stories based on their own bias, rather than Facebook guidelines. Facebook pays news organizations like Buzzfeed and The New York Times to generate content for them that opens in Facebook, so you don’t have to leave the site to get your news and information.

There are also allegations Facebook tended to downplay content that favored conservative news. According to Gizmodo, Facebook employees admitted “they were suppressing conservative news, mostly because the majority of the employees working to curate the news weren’t conservative.” Whether those allegations are true or not remains to be seen, as both Facebook and the Senate are investigating.

The one piece of good news is those leaked documents indicate Facebook is working hard to filter out those wretched clickbait articles that take you to a sketchy website.

So where does that leave us? Pretty much back where we started actually. It’s unwise to get your news from one source, whether it’s Facebook, Fox News or CNN. It’s human nature to have a bias, and no matter how ethical the journalist, it’s impossible for that bias not to have an impact on their perspective.

For us as Facebook users, continue to engage with content. Hide, unfollow or skip content that doesn’t appeal to you and like, share and comment on the content that does. Click on articles that interest you and share them on your own feed. Those algorithms are always at work in the background, and ultimately Facebook wants to please you so they can keep you engaged and coming back for more.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.


Are Parents Guilty of Oversharing on Social Media?

By Tracey Dowdy

Do you ask your children’s permission before you post about them on social media?

Researchers at the University of Washington paired with researchers at the University of Michigan to study 249 parent-child pairings (children ages 10 to 17) across 40 states.

The purpose of the study was to examine what expectations both sides had about the rules families should follow when it came to technology.

Although there was plenty of common ground when it came to issues like texting and driving, there was a significant disconnect when the issue of social media arose. In fact, according to the study, three times more children than parents thought there should be rules about what parents shared on social media. Wait, what? You read that right. Kids had issues with what their parents were sharing.

Facebook hit the internet in 2004 and Instagram in 2010 and both drastically changed what we know about one another’s lives. It’s not uncommon for parents to curate social media pages for their children, almost from conception through birth and beyond. We post candid as well as artfully posed and edited photos alongside anecdotes on everything from potty training to track-meet victories. What used to be shared around the dinner table or posted on the fridge door is now out there for the whole world to see. But as our digital babies come of age, we’re starting to hear how our kids feel about the digital identity that we’ve carefully cultivated and created for them.

“As these children come of age, they’re going to be seeing the digital footprint left in their childhood’s wake. While most of them will be fine, some might take issue with it,” said Stacey Steinberg, a legal skills professor and associate director of the Center on Children and Families at the University of Florida Levin College of Law.

“I definitely know people who have parents who post things they wish weren’t out there. There was a girl in my eighth grade class whose mom opened a YouTube account for her in fourth grade to show off her singing. Finally, on one of the last months of middle school, a peer played the song in class and almost the entire class laughed hysterically over it.” – Isabella Aijo, 15, high school sophomore.

So does this mean we need to take down everything we’ve ever posted or go back through 12 years of Facebook posts? Yes and no. I know I have old photo albums on Facebook that I should edit or delete. Some of the things that seemed perfectly innocuous or needful at the time can be perceived as something very different by our kids.

And it’s more than just our photos. Sometimes we share less-than-perfect moments of our parenting to get advice. Having trouble potty training? Tantrums? Bedwetting? Getting your child to sleep through the night? How about talking to your kids about divorce, sex, bullying or drugs? Our circle of friends has moved from our neighbors to an online community and we often look to that community for support and advice. When we ask those questions, we’re asking as parents, not taking into consideration that we’re posting about another person without their consent.

At the other end of the spectrum is the Internet “kid shaming” trend that seemed to be in vogue a couple of years ago. No matter how well-intentioned those parents may have been, the subjects of those videos – their children – will eventually learn that their parents couldn’t be trusted not to share embarrassing material online.

As we continue to parent in a digital age, “we’re going to have to find ways to balance a parent’s right to share their story and a parent’s right to control the upbringing of their child with a child’s right to privacy,” says Steinberg. “Parents often intrude on a child’s digital identity, not because they are malicious but because they haven’t considered the potential reach and the longevity of the digital information that they’re sharing.”

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t capture those moments. I have hilarious pictures of my kids in the bathtub fully clothed, asleep in a laundry basket, writing on the kitchen wall with a Sharpie, and one particularly funny video of my oldest who “ran away” to the front porch, yelling for a taxi. We laugh over those pictures and videos often and so have the friends and family I’ve shared them with. My sister Tara’s posts about her toddler leave us in stitches on a regular basis and I look forward to finding out what she’ll get up to next.

Experts suggest that if you do need advice on parenting issues like potty training or picky-eaters, leave out the photos, tags and names so they’ll be less likely to come up in a search down the road. Show your children the same consideration you want from them. Do you want that video of you first thing in the morning, dressed in your mismatched PJ’s and cleaning up spilled Cheerios while you rant that “No-one around here helps me…just get your backpack…you’re going to miss the bus again!” all over Snapchat or made into a Vine? Probably not.

It’s not that we’re capturing those moments – it’s who we’re sharing them with. If your child is uncomfortable, take it down. Remember, everyone from their peers to their prospective employer will have access to that post. Model the responsible online behavior we we so often talk about and try to reinforce in our kids. The same rules should apply for us as parents. After all, these are the teachable moments we look for.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Keeping Our Kids Safe on Social Media

By Tracey Dowdy

Let me begin by saying not everything our kids are doing online is dangerous and not all social media platforms are bad.

As parents, trying to keep up with what our kids are up to online may feel like eating soup with a fork. Relax. We don’t need to be active on all the social media sites our kids are using. In fact, if we start using one platform, our kids will likely abandon it. But, being active and being aware are two very different things. We’re raising our kids in a digital age and at The Online Mom we advocate safe and responsible use of all tech devices and social media.

I’ve said it many times and I’ll say it again, no app, whitelist, blacklist or software can replace open and honest conversation with your kids. Setting boundaries while they’re young, when they are first becoming active online, is the key. If you’re late to the game, don’t panic. Educate yourself about what’s out there, what apps are popular and which of them pose the greatest potential for risky behavior.

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of talking to your kids. Ask questions, but be prepared to do some homework. Your children likely won’t be any more forthcoming about what they’re up to than you were with your own parents. Did you give them all the details of the parties you went to? The people you hung out with? The dumb things your friends did? Of course not. The difference today is that instead of hanging out in the basement with friends while we’re upstairs watching TV, our kids are hanging out online, often with total strangers.

The key is awareness. According to a study by McAfee, 70 percent of teens have hidden online activity from their parents by erasing their browser history, deleting messages, photos or videos, or using mobile apps like Calculator%, an app that appears to be a simple calculator but in reality is designed to be a password protected online “safe” where kids can hide photos.

Looking through your child’s phone may seem like an invasion of their privacy and in many ways it is. It’s the modern equivalent of reading their diaries. I’m not advocating spying on your kids – it makes them distrustful of you and gives them more incentive to hide what they’re up to – but as parents we have a responsibility to protect them.

Be open and honest. Experts recommend telling your kids you’ll be monitoring their activity either by looking at their phone or, if necessary, by using an app that reports activity back to you. It’s tough isn’t it? It’s that difficult balancing act between helicopter and free-range parenting.

If you do discover apps, photos, videos or any other content that crosses the line, again, don’t panic. Talk to your child about what you’ve found and why it’s inappropriate. Talk about the consequences. If you freak out and overreact, your kids will just get better at hiding things from you rather than changing their behavior. It’ll also make them less likely to come to you if they feel unsafe about something that’s happened online for fear they’ll get into trouble.

Let me reiterate, not every child is up to no good and social media in and of itself is not harmful. Parenting in a digital age means we have to work a little harder at keeping up with trends in technology in ways our parents didn’t need to. The rest is Parenting 101: you’re my child and it’s my job to keep you safe. That never changes.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Keeping Our Digital Children Safe

By Tracey Dowdy

The recent death of 13 year-old Nicole Madison Lovell was a terrible tragedy. A cancer and liver transplant survivor, Nicole lost her life after chatting with strangers on social media and then apparently arranging to meet an 18 year old man through the messaging app Kik. Two Virginia Tech students have been charged in connection with Nicole’s death.

Unfortunately, Nicole’s story is not unique. From the time our children are small we warn them of “stranger danger.” As they get older and become active online, we caution them about the risks of talking to strangers via social media. But according to Pew Research, six out of ten teens say they have at least one friend that they’ve met online and one-third say they’ve gone on to meet that friend in person. Those are sobering statistics.

That teens engage in risky behavior should not be a surprise to anyone. Temple University psychology professor Laurence Steinberg says, “The teenage brain is like a car with a good accelerator but a weak brake. With powerful impulses under poor control, the likely result is a crash.”

Impulse control stems from the frontal lobe of our brain which isn’t fully developed until around age 25, so when teens experience peer pressure or extreme emotions they’re less likely to consider the long-term consequences of their actions.

Pair that lack of judgment with online predators and we have the tragic story of a child like Nicole. She had allegedly been the victim of bullying at school; a situation many experts say can make a teen even more vulnerable to online predators.

Commander of the Ohio Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force David Frattare says, “Kik is the problem app of the moment,” primarily because the user’s identity is protected. Although the app asks for the user’s real name and email address, Kik works even if they’re fictitious and the app doesn’t require a phone number.

Kik is similar to text messaging but more private. It’s free, allows unlimited messaging, gives users the ability to insert gifs and a variety of emoji’s, and, best of all to many teens, most parents have no idea it exists. However your kids know about it: according to Kik’s website, the app is used by 40 percent of American teens.

Unlike some other messaging apps, written messages on Kik can’t be viewed by outsiders or shown to the police and images or videos are only retained until they’re opened on the recipient’s device. In a case like Nicole’s where there is a court order, Kik can provide law enforcement with a log of a user’s activity and in some cases an IP address, though with 275 million registered users worldwide it’s no small task to sift through the information.

Where does this leave parents? First of all, don’t panic. Although Kik is one of many social media platforms that are being exploited by predators, it’s important not to overreact and take away all your child’s devices. Professor David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, warns us not to become “technophobic.” Remember it’s character, not technology, that makes children and teens vulnerable. Kids who are socially isolated, bullied, struggle with depression, or don’t get along with parents and caregivers are those most at risk.

But how do we protect our children against online predators? Well, there are some excellent mobile phone monitoring apps that can help you control how your child’s phone is used. But remember, no app or parental control can substitute for an open and honest conversation with your kids. Educate them about the risks and long term consequences of interacting with strangers online. Remind them that someone presenting themselves as a peer could easily be a predator and that spur of the moment decisions can sometimes lead to tragic long-term consequences.

Author’s Note: Kik is cooperating fully with law enforcement in the Lovell case. They sponsor an annual conference on crimes against children, as well as providing a law enforcement guide on their website to assist in the prevention of child exploitation.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

How Social Media Is Shaping Our News

By Tracey Dowdy

We live in an era when an increasingly large part of the population gets their news via social media. According to a 2014 study by Pew Research, 30 percent of adults look to Facebook as their source for news, while another 10 percent each look to Twitter or YouTube. These numbers are constantly evolving and it’s safe to say they spike during events such as the presidential debates.

As a teen I remember being bored senseless when the news came on, and though my parents would encourage me to pay attention to make me aware of current events, I really couldn’t wait until we could change the channel and watch pretty much anything else.  Part of it was my age and lack of interest in anything that didn’t directly impact my life, and part of it was the delivery – a stern faced, stiff, older man with a clipped and formal delivery. There was a definite disconnect.

Today, as a result of the ubiquity of social media, that same information often comes to us from peers, celebrities, and other pop culture sources. Instead of a disconnect, there’s a feeling of immediacy that makes the Syrian refugee crisis in Europe or the bombing of a MSF hospital in Kunduz seem much closer to home.

Not only are younger people becoming greater consumers of news and current events through social media, they’re also becoming participants by posting their own photos or videos of those current events. Police used videos posted on Facebook to identify Stanley Cup rioters in Vancouver and when you consider the impact user generated content had on events like the Darren Wilson verdict or the Arab Spring, the influence of social media is more than obvious.

It’s no surprise that individuals who most closely follow news and current events are also the most engaged in political and social causes. Increased awareness is certainly a positive thing but there’s a danger that not all the information that goes viral is accurate. When Malaysian Airlines flight 370 went missing there were countless false reports and news updates shared via social media, including one stating the plane had landed safely in Nanning, China. I’ve lost track of the number of reports of Betty White’s passing away and I frequently see “R.I.P. Rue McClanahan,” who in reality died back in 2010. Even big name media outlets like CNN and Fox News sometimes get it wrong and, if nothing else, the Brian Williams debacle taught us to fact check and then fact check again.

It all comes down to critical thinking skills and reminding our kids to check their sources. In fact that’s good advice for all of us. I myself have been guilty of sharing inaccurate news, because I blindly trusted the source who initially shared it. It only takes a moment to fact check and make sure the information is correct but it can take a long time to un-do the damage from a false report. Sometimes the desire to be first overrides the need to be right and we as consumers are the ones who pay for that.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Trends in Teens and Technology

By Tracy Dowdy

As a woman in my 40’s living in the suburbs, marketing aimed at me tends to fall in to the home/lawn/wrinkle and/or grey hair maintenance categories. In other words, things my kids couldn’t care less about.

The same principle applies to social media – if it’s trending or something that appeals to me, my kids aren’t interested. They’ve been there, done that, bought the t-shirt and likely got the tattoo.

Though it started as a way for Harvard University students to connect, and despite Mark Zuckerberg’s best efforts, the average Facebook user is now 40.5 years old. Once my generation caught on, Facebook’s “cool factor” dropped significantly.

But just because it’s not the most popular site anymore doesn’t mean teens aren’t using Facebook. According to Pew Research Center, 71% of teens still use Facebook, they’re just using other sites too.social-media-use

Interestingly, socioeconomic status seems to impact which site teens use. Those in households earning less than $50,000 tend to use Facebook more often than other social media, while those in households with an income over $70,000 prefer Snapchat.

When you consider that 73% of teens have smartphones and the fact the average teen sends 3,339 texts a month, suddenly the popularity of apps like Kik and WhatsApp become apparent. Both apps bypass the restraints and cost of traditional texting making their appeal even more understandable.  Video messaging apps like Keek allows users to upload 36 second videos directly to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Google+ and HeyTell allows instant voice messaging by pressing a giant “hold and speak” button.

Anonymous sharing apps like Whisper, Yik Yak, and Ask.FM, that allow users to ask questions or post confessional texts or images, are utilized by a smaller number of teens with only 13% of girls and 8% boys reporting use.

All this can be very intimidating for parents, caregivers, school counselors or anyone else tasked with providing emotional or peer support for teens. Online bullying frequently rears its ugly head, as does kid-shaming or the lowest of them all, revenge porn.

Keeping up with what your kids are up to is like trying to outrun a zombie, only in this analogy, you’re the zombie. Unless your prey is as old as Facebook, you may have a hard time keeping up.

Don’t despair. You don’t need to have a Tumblr account, join Snapchat or start making Vines. As with every other good parenting strategy, start with a good ol’ conversation. Ask your kids what’s new, what they’re into and see where it leads. Plus, that’s what we’re here for at The Online Mom. We’re all about keeping up with trends in technology and supporting your family’s digital lifestyle. What trends do you want us to look at? Is there a social media platform you don’t understand? It’s right there in our name – The Online Mom. All you have to do is ask.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Setting Social Media Boundaries for Younger Kids

By Tracey Dowdy

Setting appropriate social media boundaries isn’t as daunting a task as it may seem. By engaging your kids in an honest discussion of what social media is and the possible risks will ensure you can establish boundaries the whole family can respect. More than that, it can help your kids develop healthy online habits that will safeguard them from making common social media mistakes – mistakes that can have long term negative consequences.

Start with a conversation. No one – not you, not your kids – likes arbitrary rules with no background or information to support the decisions. Whatever age your children are, have an honest conversation about setting boundaries, what being safe online means, and what that looks like for your family. Allow give and take, listen to their concerns or arguments, work together to set up guidelines, and help your kids see how it translates to social media use.

Use common sense. You wouldn’t let your kids play unsupervised at the park or let your 4th grader hang out with a group of strangers at a party. Letting your kids surf the web or engage in social media with no restrictions is no different. Setting reasonable limits on the amount of time they can be online or limiting the sites they can access isn’t punitive, it’s protection.

Consider age and maturity. I think we can all agree maturity levels may vary significantly and have less to do with age than life experience. When my oldest daughter was 19, she’d already lived in three different states, two countries and graduated from nursing school. When I was 19, my six year old brother locked me in a trunk while I was babysitting and we were playing magician. “Age is simply a number” may be a cliché but it’s true – you know better than any arbitrary age guideline if your child will make wise choices when they’re online.

Make Privacy Settings your new best friend. Privacy settings aren’t foolproof but they are helpful and are there to safeguard users. Learn how to establish the privacy level you want on each of the social media sites your kids are using and stay up-to-date. Privacy policies are often updated or changed and it’s important to stay informed.

Teach them what’s okay to share. Teaching your kids not to share their personal information or accept friend requests from strangers is fundamental to social media safety. It’s the online equivalent of don’t take candy from strangers. Speaking of sharing, depending on your child’s age and maturity, you may want to have access to their social media accounts, but passwords should never be shared with friends.

Boundaries are important. A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that the average 8 to 18-year-old in the U.S. spends almost eight hours a day using entertainment media. That may seem unreal but understand that statistic not only includes TV but texting and using social media platforms like Snapchat and Tumblr. No, not Facebook; we’re on Facebook, so that means our kids aren’t. Think about it; eight hours is a long time – far more than they’re spending with us. That’s why those boundaries are important.

Establish a Family Online Safety Contract. The best way to ensure your kids develop healthy online boundaries, especially with social media, is to establish an Online Safety Contract for your family. There are plenty of templates and samples online or you can simply create your own. By developing it together, you’ve demonstrated that you’re both committed to making it work. Including your kids in the process helps them to be personally invested and gives them ownership on a practical level. Keep in mind you’ll need to update the contract from time to time as your kids mature and need fewer restrictions.

Have a conversation, don’t lecture. Start lecturing about the dangers of social media and watch your kids’ eyes glaze over like frost on a window pane. Instead of listing all the reasons you feel something is inappropriate, ask your kids what they think. Help your kids to understand that what they post can have long term consequences. It’s important they understand that what goes online is out there for everyone to see, and that once it’s out there, it really never goes away.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” is just as important online as it is in real life. Help your kids understand bullying is just as hurtful online as it is face to face and words said online have real-world consequences.

Set a good example. Kids see what you do far more clearly than they hear what you say. Set an example for your children by being mindful of what you do online and in real life. Even if your kids aren’t your Facebook friends, they see how you treat others every day and they pick up on your social cues. Beyond that, if you want your kids to have a balance between screen time and face-to-face interaction with friends and family, set the example. That can be something as simple as turning off your phone before you sit down to dinner.

On a final note, you may find it interesting to know that most social media sites and apps require users to be 13 or older. Contrary to popular belief, this has little or nothing to do with protecting your kids from inappropriate content. That’s our job as parents. Instead, 13 is the magic number because of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) that prevents companies from collecting certain information from kids under the age of thirteen.

Whatever age your children are, by engaging in honest conversation, doing your research, staying connected and up-to-date on what’s trending through sites like The Online Mom, you can feel confident knowing your kids are developing and maintaining safe social media boundaries.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

How To Manage Your Online Reputation

By Tracey Dowdy

We’ve all heard anecdotal stories like the one about the woman who lost a promotion when her disparaging comments about her employer were seen on Twitter, or the guy who wasn’t hired because photos from Spring Break ’08 showed up in a Google search.

According to CareerBulider.com, 75 percent of employers utilize search engines like Google before hiring someone. The most common reasons for potential hires being rejected ranged from talking about drinking or drug habits to bad-mouthing previous employers.

To paraphrase Warren Buffet, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes (of Google searching) to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

The prospect of going back years or through hundreds of pages of a Google search to clean up your online reputation can be overwhelming. Companies like Outspoken Media and Firefly Digital Marketing have built their businesses on helping individuals and companies curate their online presence not only for optimization but for reputation as well. One start-up – BrandYourself.com – will clean things up for less than $100 a year.

The good news is that unless you have more complex issues, like past legal troubles or a negative review from a reputable source, you can do a lot of the work yourself. Here’s how:

  • All roads lead to Rome and all searches start with Google. Well, all roads may not lead to Rome these days but Google is far and away the most commonly used search engine. Sign up for Google Alerts to be notified any time new content about you is published to make it easier to monitor what’s out there.
  • Be mindful of where that content ranks. An average of 85 percent of people click on links on the first page of a Google search but the number drops exponentially to 10-12 percent for page two and all the way down to 3-5 percent for page three. If what’s posted on page one – regardless of whether it’s true – is negative, it won’t matter that the positive content is on page four or five. Anything past page three is pretty much the online reputation equivalent of the Sea of Tranquility.
  • Create and control your own domain name. In other words, if you can’t remove it, bury it. Pete Kistler, co-founder of BrandYourself.com learned the importance of burying negative content when he discovered there was another Pete Kistler showing up in Goggle searches of his name. The problem? The other Pete Kistler was a convicted drug dealer. So, Kistler seized control of his name by creating positive, original content, as well as multiple websites which ultimately drove the other Pete Kistler further down in search results. You can buy domain names for as little as $12 a year from sites like GoDaddy. That’s money well spent if it’s putting you in the driver’s seat.
  • Make the most of social media. Aggregate your accounts by utilizing a social media manager like HootSuite or TweetDeck. Social Media Management Systems (SMMS) consolidate your accounts into a single dashboard instead of having to log in to individual accounts. From here you can schedule content, monitor mentions, and track keywords.
  • Be proactive and reactive. Seize and maintain control of your social media profiles like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Consider separate accounts for personal and professional use. No doubt you’ve put effort into developing your professional reputation and you don’t want it damaged because of content that has been posted without your consent. It can happen as simply as being tagged in a Facebook photo by a family member or friend. By keeping separate accounts you lessen the risk of the two world’s colliding. If it does happen, and you want the content removed, act quickly to mitigate the impact. Ask that the content be taken down and if that doesn’t work contact the site manager for assistance in resolving the issue.
  • Blog Blog Blog. Fact: blogging attracts more traffic than static websites and is a great way to curate your brand and your reputation. What better way to demonstrate who you are than by creating the content yourself? Blogging forces you to be mindful of the content and that mindfulness will spill over into your other social media accounts. Seed the blog with keywords and tags to improve your search engine results and drive it to that coveted page one of Google.

Finally, remember this: The best kept secret is that nothing is secret. Don’t assume privacy settings will protect you – any wall can be breached. It’s a cliché but if in doubt, leave it out. The blowback could be as simple as hurt feelings or as complex as a libel suit.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

The Right To Be Remembered

By Paul O’Reilly

Facebook is now letting its users nominate someone to be in charge of their accounts after they die. Termed a legacy contact, the nominated individual will be able to write a pinned post for the deceased user’s Timeline (e.g. to share a final message or provide information about a memorial service), respond to new friend requests, and update the profile and cover photos.

The question of what happens to social media accounts after people die has been a vexing one, particularly for Facebook, where some studies have suggested that upwards of 3 million users die each year. Most accounts remain frozen in time, with no changes to the content or privacy settings, but Facebook has quietly been addressing the growing problem, gradually introducing a series of steps that allow for a more dignified end to an individual’s social media existence.

While a legacy contact can be nominated at any time through a user’s privacy settings (US users only for now), the account still has to be memorialized before the legacy contact can take any action. An account is memorialized after Facebook receives a request from a family member or friend, which is usually accompanied by some kind of proof of death like an obituary.

While the legacy contact can accept new friend requests (am I alone in thinking that’s a little weird?) and update profile and cover photos, that’s about the extent of his or her authority. The legacy contact can’t formally log into the account and can’t change or remove any past posts or photos. Also, the legacy contact can’t read any messages that have been sent or remove any of the deceased person’s friends.

As well as a legacy contact, Facebook is still offering users the option of having an account permanently deleted. The problem there is that the user still has to rely on someone telling Facebook that the person has passed away. Without any clear instructions via a will or other formal document, notifying Facebook is hardly going to be at the top of a ‘To Do’ list for surviving friends and relatives.

The whole question of what happens to a social media account after someone dies is an evolving issue, with virtually no legislation or legal precedent to guide the actions of either users or the social media platforms. With tens of millions of people actively engaged on social media every day that is bound to change. It’s not hard to imagine the time when estranged parties fight over a deceased family member’s Facebook account the same way they do now over other legacy items.

If you’re active on social media, then it’s worth giving some thought to how you want your accounts to be treated after you’ve gone. While the Internet has prompted much debate about the right to be forgotten, perhaps we should be more concerned about how we are going to be remembered.

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