I know, I know: Some out there will say merely using Facebook is a mistake. This blog post isn't for you -- feel free to move along to the comment forums on OldGuysWhoSmellLikeAsparagus.com. As for the rest of you, take heed.
I'm using Facebook as the primary example here, but the many of the same rules apply to Twitter, MySpace (sorry -- My____), and the 3,247 other social networks out there. If you can, try to avoid the following social network faux pas:
1. Using your account strictly for promotional purposes. Yeah, we know, people do this on Twitter all the time (and we secretly hate them for it). But if you only use Facebook to drive people to your site/article/cause du jour, you'll find yourself being quietly unfriended as well as ignored. Make at least half your posts personal and your peeps will find the promos more palatable.
[ See also: Facebook: The Medium is the message ] 2. Getting too personal. Did we really need to hear the intimate details of your latest Jagermeister jag or see photos of your recent colonoscopy? We think not. And neither will your prospective employers (45 percent check out Facebook accounts before hiring, per Career Builder), college admissions officers (10 percent, per Kaplan), or potential mates. Remember these three letters: TMI.
3. Drunken commenting. You've had a few pops, so you log onto Facebook and begin leaving comments on people's photos and posts. They seem absolutely hilarious at the time, but in the cold hangover light of morning you just look like an ass. May I recommend the Social Media Sobriety Test?
4. Falling for the "I'm an old friend you haven't seen in 20 years and I'm stranded in London could you please wire me money" scam. Amazingly, the London Scam actually works. It happens when the fraudster hijacks your old friend's account and then uses it to send out desperate (and convincing) pleas for help. A friend of mine was targeted by this scam and almost bit; a woman in Missouri did bite and found her wallet $4000 lighter.
5. Slagging on your boss, co-workers, friends, or significant others. Listen, we all got gripes. But in the meatspace they tend to dissipate over time; on Facebook they're forever, or as close to it as the digital world generally gets. They may fall harmlessly into the digisphere or they may come back to cause you a world of pain -- there's just no way to know.
6. Being duped by malware. These are typically spread via outrageously titled wall posts like "Justin Bieber just got erection in public" or "Distracting beach babes." Curiosity gets the better of you and you click on the link. Instead of a video of Justin's engorged manhood or bouncing bikini Betties, you get a bad case of Koobface or some other socially borne malware. Worse, that post now becomes part of your wall, tempting your friends to click. If it's too outrageous or salacious to be believed, assume it's malware and move on.
7. Logging in from a free public WiFi hotspot. First, there's the question whether that "Free Public WiFi" network really is a free hotspot generously provided for your use by some benevolent business establishment, or in reality an "evil twin" honeypot that's out to capture your information. And even if the hotspot is legit, because Facebook uses an insecure sign on protocol, your user name and password could be stolen by anyone sniffing the WiFi network (or by using Firesheep, a program designed to specifically target log-in cookies for popular social networks). Use the Electronic Frontier Foundation's free HTTPS Everywhere plug in for Firefox to force sites to use encrypted connections.
8. Friending people because their profile pictures are hot. I have never done this. I swear. All those bikini models in my friends list are just there because I'm deeply interested in South Florida culture. What's the downside? Best case: You get inundated with the most banal updates and/or spammy self promotion you can imagine. Worst case: They turn out to be bait for some scammer trying to socially engineer information out of you.
9. Clicking ads inside Facebook Platform games. Because you really don't know what information those Facegames are sharing with advertisers, despite what they may claim.
10. Accepting Facebook's default privacy settings. You can make your public profile almost negligible, thanks to Facebook's enhanced privacy settings. But Facebook wants and needs you to share your data with the world for its ad model to work, so its default settings are still pretty generous with your information. Take my advice: Go as private as you can and let the others take the heat.
ITworld TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan has broken at least half these rules at one point or another (and there's still plenty of time for the other half). Catch his brand of juvenile snark at eSarcasm (Geek Humor Gone Wild) or follow him on Twitter: @tynan_on_tech.