Friday, January 22, 2010

Talking with Strangers - it's not as creepy, thanks to Facebook

So our little offspring is looking into a 'Study Abroad' program at college.  Very cool!  This came up in a conversation I was having at work, and it so happens that this colleague of mine has a grandson who is at her destination school right now.  So he suggests that my daughter contact his grandson, to get some first-hand knowledge of the place.  Simple enough, right?  But think about it, this is really an attempt to make a 3rd degree connection:  my daughter, to me, to my co-worker, to his grandson.  How would you start this conversation?  Isn't this a bit awkward?  Even creepy, perhaps?  "Uh, you don't know me, but…"

Well, the first thing my daughter did was to look him up on Facebook.  In her words, she "Facebook stalked" him.  Since they are not 'friends' in Facebook, she could only see a portion of his information -- some photos, basic demographic information, his interests --  but it was enough to help her feel comfortable enough to reach out and seek some information from him.  The note started something like "I hear that my dad and you grandfather have been talking…", and it went from there.  She now has a much better feeling about what she is signing up for, and if indeed she is accepted, there will be at least one familiar face on the ground when she gets there.

Even if a person is not your 'friend' in Facebook, all users are able to see a limited amount of information about you.   According to Facebook's privacy policy, "Certain categories of information such as your name, profile photo, list of friends and pages you are a fan of, gender, geographic region, and networks you belong to are considered publicly available to everyone,"  In addition, the default privacy settings have other information defaulted as available to 'Everyone'.  It's a good idea to review your privacy settings to see what others can see.

However, I'm bringing this up to flip some conventional wisdom on its head…  The typical position preached to parents is to make sure their kids' Facebook profiles are completely locked down - don't let anyone see anything!  Well if that were so in this case, my daughter would not have had access to that glimpse into this person's world, which helped break the ice on a conversation that will have a major impact on her college career.  Don't hide yourself from the Facebook world, just be aware of what you're making available.

Facebook is just a tool.  Just like a table saw can easily take your finger off, it can also make easy work of otherwise difficult tasks.  Advise the kids to respect the tool that is Facebook, and it will serve them well!

1 comment:

Facebook Dad said...

PS - nobody involved in this transaction thought this was unusual at all. How do you as a parent feel about your kid reaching out to people they may never meet?