November 19, 2008

To Tweet or not to Tweet

I just found out my friend had her first baby last night. I didn’t know this because I was there. Nor did she call me. Rather, I found out from a Facebook status update.
From the hospital room, my friend’s husband sent out a message from his cell phone alerting anyone on Facebook to the fact that 57 minutes ago he was indeed finally holding Jackson Patrick.
This is great because through the wonders of the Internet we can all know - perhaps before even the umbilical cord was cut - that Jackson has finally arrived.
But people have gotten so caught up in tweeting, obsessively updating statuses from cell phones, and filling out detailed profiles for their friends or family to see instantaneously wherever they are. But they forget about who else is seeing this and what it can lead to.
Internet crimes are such a problem that the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension announced yesterday that it received $500,000 to help police catch online predators.
But not only did the U.S. Department of Justice give this grant to help the Minnesota Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task force increase forensic capabilities, monitor offenders on parole and probation, and expand its partnerships, ICAC’s Commander Neil Nelson told me in an interview last year that the task force also received a $200,000 grant last October for a mobile training lab to train 150 statewide officers to better catch predators.
In a time when Minnesota’s money is being squandered on frugalities like an undeserving new stadium, it’s noble that this amount of money is at least being spent protecting children from preying sexual offenders.
But this is also a lot of money. A lot of money that could be saved if the problem was attacked at its root.
In other words, how about stop putting your personal information out there on the Internet for anyone to see?
Whether it’s listing your full street address on your Facebook page, tweeting that you’re jogging then going to Punch Pizza later tonight, or posting where you work on your Linkedin page, people of all ages – not just children – are susceptible to online predators or even identity theft.
Is it really necessary to list your address on Facebook? Don’t all your friends already know where you live or can just call you up for directions?
Too many of my college-aged friends have their addresses listed, and it makes me wonder why a girl I knew freshmen year was shocked when a stranger showed up at her dorm room saying he knew where she lived from her Facebook profile.
As for status updates, besides not really caring that you’re eating a bowl of cereal right this very second, telling people where you are and when is like leaving a note on your door when you’re going on vacation saying, “Yep, no one’s home. Go ahead, come on in.?
While police are collecting thousands of dollars every year to focus on training themselves, people can do their part to prevent these crimes by being careful about what they’re putting out there on the Internet and making sure children know that.
Children like my friend’s little sister. Six years ago her mom freaked when a strange man kept calling her house asking to speak to her then 10-year-old daughter.
But my friend wasn’t shocked. “Yeah, it was because she gave him her number.?
So it’s great to hear that Jackson was born, but please don’t post where he’s going to go to day care and when.