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  • Christopher G. Moore

THE RISK OF SPILLING YOUR GUTS ONLINE

With Facebook or Bebo (if you are in UK) pages have mushroomed. Millions of people have pages. I have a Facebook page (though sadly with deadlines I have little time to update it). In recent years, government agencies, insurance companies, employers, lawyers, and investigators are discovering that there is “dirt” to be mined in the pages of these online sites.

Since most people feel as they sit in front of their computer screen typing away that their confession is for a few friends, they open up and say things they would never say at dinner party. For example, you write about how much you drank last night as you staggered to your car to drive home. You write a love letter to someone online. And before long you have an online romance going to the boil. You write about how your workplace is hell and your boss is a craven, blood-drinking third-world dictator. You feel better having got that off your chest.

One thing to remember: What you’ve posted online can be (and increasingly is) read by your wife or girlfriend, employer, neighbor, friends, police, prosecutors, and agencies trolling for people violating the law. What you write on line can come back to haunt you. When you make a statement against your own interest courts view such statements as highly relevant as people normally don’t say bad things about themselves unless the statement is true. This is the legal presumption. The burden falls on you to show your statement should be ignored.

If you are applying for a job, a grant, a fellowship, or seeking a loan, remember the people who makes the decision may be checking you out online.

There is a good article addressing these fears in The Independent, Facebook can ruin your live. So can MySpace and Bebo…

“In America, the monitoring of social networking sites for content that may interest employers and officialdom is now so routine that software is being put on the market that will automate the process. Sure enough, software to try to defeat the snoops is also emerging – offering the prospect of a privacy "arms race" in the years ahead. ReputationDefender, for instance, offers the embarrassing personal information equivalent of credit reports, claiming it can help expunge from the online record material you regret revealing. Michael Fertik, the firm's CEO, said demand for their service is now "ridiculous", with hundreds of UK clients already.

“The first Facebook or Bebo divorce case cannot be far away. Divorce specialist Elizabeth Allen, head of family law at Stephens and Scown, Exeter, said: "Social networking has much more scope for trouble because of the public element. It's got the potential to be more explosive. It's just like airing your dirty laundry. We've had divorces that have been due to Friends Reunited in the past and that will be replaced by Facebook with the next generation. Now most people who would never have written a love letter to someone are writing it all down and sending it because they somehow think it's different."

“As well as unwise posting of content, there is also an unknown but large number of people whose privacy has been compromised, or their identities stolen, as a result of their own naivety combined with the security vulnerability of the social network sites, and the willingness of others to exploit that. Last month, for example, a hacker downloaded half a million private pictures from MySpace and made them available on the file-sharing site BitTorrent.”

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