Do you use the check-in feature on Facebook or have a Foursquare account? Are your Tweets linked to your location? How much do you post online about your whereabouts?
As a single female who blogs about sex, I’ve been loathe to provide a lot of information about my location. I don’t have a Foursquare account. I never check-in anywhere on Facebook. And, I’ve disenabled the geotagging feature on my Twitter account. I also feel a bit uncomfortable when I see Tweets from my friends in advance of our get-togethers that reveal where we plan to go in the future.
When I began blogging anonymously, I didn’t want people connecting City Girl to Stef Woods. Now that I blog openly, I’m more private than you might expect about where I am and who I’m with. If I acknowledge my whereabouts online, I try to do so as I’m leaving a given location, rather than when I’m there.
I’ve been blessed to have amazingly supportive readers and virtual friends. I don’t want to be disrespectful of that, but I also can’t assume that every reader and every Twitter follower is a good-hearted person. I still cringe every time I see Creepy Apology Man in my neighborhood. Do any of us really know who is paying attention to us – online or off – and whether that attention is harmless?
[It’s] important to point out other applications that may reveal a little too much information about the user. Some social media websites such as Facebook.com provide the option of sharing your location. This can be done on a smartphone or on a computer and now Facebook even includes a map of your exact check-in location with a space to add text and the ability to tag the people you are with. Twitter has a similar feature that allows locations to be added to tweets. While this might seem like a good way for individuals to document where they have been, this also provides sexual predators with a lot of information that can be used to harm.
Another similar application is Foursquare.com, which actively encourages its users to check in their locations on their phones to connect with other friends who might be in the area. The problem is that Foursquare can be linked to other social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter so unless all accounts are completely private, there is a chance that someone who is not a “friend” will see your location.
While these features may seem fairly innocuous, they also hold the possibility of alerting predators to your location. Facebook literally provides a map of where you are, which practically leads an assailant right to your exact current location. As of May 2011, 17% of the U.S. population had checked-in using an app on their mobile device (Hargreaves, 2011). 90% of people who have checked-in have done so using Facebook Places and the top check-in destinations were restaurants, coffee shops/cafes, hotels, and bar/clubs (Hargreaves, 2011). Out of those statistics, the most concerning is probably the amount of people who check in at bars/clubs because of the added factor of alcohol and lessened inhibitions. It is important that the people using these services realize how easy it can be for this information to be used against them, especially if they are not alerted to the dangers. It is necessary for individuals to be aware that what they put out on the Internet can translate to real life in a negative way.
Sharon’s project explores “the utilization of social media by sexual predators to locate and target potential victims. Due to the proliferation in the use of social media, more people are able to be 'connected.' However, these connections can be dangerous if users are not authentic and social media is being used as a tool to connect with potential victims. For this reason, [her] research question is:
Has social media made it easier for sexual predators to find potential victims?
This is a highly important and relevant issue in our society and more awareness needs to be brought to this subject matter. With younger generations beginning to use social media, a new medium to reach potential victims has become available for sexual predators. In order to prevent more violent acts, parents and children should become informed of ways in which to safely use social media. In general, all social media users should become aware of this issue in order to protect themselves from sexual predators because children are not the only ones who are targeted.”
Read more about Sharon's research findings here.
So, do you acknowledge your whereabouts on Foursquare, Facebook or Twitter? Why or why not?