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Attorney General Holds Community Forum On Internet Safety and Privacy

Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler hosted 'Facebook: 101' Tuesday night in Potomac, encouraging parents and kids to exercise caution online and utilize privacy settings.

With over 800 million users worldwide, Facebook’s community is the largest in the world, but many people, adults and children alike aren’t familiar with the inherent risks of social media, Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler said.

Gansler has taken a lead role in supporting Internet privacy, writing a letter on behalf of attorney generals from 36 states challenging Google’s new privacy policy, which allows the company to collect and share more of users' personal information.

Along with Brooke Oberwetter, a member of Facebook’s public policy team in Washington D.C., Gansler is also challenging Facebook users to be more aware of privacy settings and protections the social network offers.

The duo presented Facebook: 101 – a community forum on how parents can better protect their kids on Facebook and other social media – at Potomac’s Winston Churchill High School Tuesday night.

“Many of you in this room are probably just like me, where your kids are on Facebook all the time, you know very little about what it is they’re doing, and you’re hoping they get it right,” Gansler said. 

Dangers on the social media site range from posting inappropriate and embarrassing pictures to cyberbullying and impersonation or comments that can be seen by anyone – including colleges and employers.

Facebook’s privacy settings and content reporting mechanisms can be utilized to make a user's information more private, intervene with cyberbullies and help Facebook’s employees track down and eliminate fake profiles, Oberwetter said.

“The key to privacy settings, the one thing you want to be thinking of when you’re setting your privacy settings, is what am I posting and who is my audience,” Oberwetter said. “Audience is the key to your privacy settings because what this does is determines with each piece of content you post, it says who can see it.”

The default setting for Facebook posts is public, which means anyone searching a user's profile can view it, regardless of whether or not the user have made a connection with them online. 

These settings can be adjusted to limit viewers on all content or individual posts to as few people as a user is comfortable with.

But even with restrictive privacy settings, Oberwetter said kids are still to trustworthy of others when it comes to the information they share online.

“We can build really, really great technology that makes sure that the five people you want to be sharing with are the five people you’re actually sharing with,” she said. “What we can’t control is how good a friend that person actually is to you.”

Oberwetter said many teens have asked her what can be done when they share content with a select group of people, but someone takes a screenshot and shares it with others who weren’t the intended recipients. The answer: nothing.

“Much like if you pass someone a note during study hall, they can go off and make a photo copy of it and pass it around to others,” Oberwetter said. “The same thing holds for the internet.” 

But, she added, much like sending their kids off to school and trusting they are in a safe place, parents need to do the same with Facebook. 

“It’s my job, and the job of a whole lot of other people at Facebook to make safety our No. 1 priority,” Oberwetter said, adding that by properly using the site’s privacy settings and reporting functions, parents and kids can do the same.

Those protections, however, only apply to users age 13 and up, Gansler and Oberwetter said. Facebook's minimum age requirement is 13 and users who falsify their age to participate violate the site's terms and conditions.

What concerns do you have for your child using Facebook or other social media? Tell us in the comments.

Janis March 21, 2012 at 03:17 PM
Yet he will not speak to the illegal course fees that are charged in Montgomery County Public Schools in violation of the Maryland State Constitution. There he stood, on the stage of one of the worst offenders, Churchill High School in Potomac.
ricky25 April 05, 2012 at 10:21 AM
In the world more than people are in the Facebook. Every one have a facebook account. [url=http://www.minormonitor.com/]Facebook for Kids[/url]

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