A California cop was recently hounded off the Internet by hacktivist group Anonymous following a tweet where he joked that he would shoot Anonymous members. The officer in question, Sgt. Mike Rood, is under investigation by the Richmond Police Department for making terrorist threats online.
Incidents like these could happen to anyone. But with a little common sense and some social media mojo, government officials can avoid the same fate as Rood.
The following list of precautions for using social media come from Canada's Sooke News Mirror. They may be aimed at a Canadian audience, but they apply equally to everyone, eh.
1) Post information only on a need to know basis.
When filling out forms online, only fill out the ones starred with asterisks, like name, address, payment information (e.g. whether you're paying via credit or debit). Anything else including the date of your birth, social security number, and the name of your dog is an open invitation to hackers. Remember, if there isn't a need, they don't need to know.
2) Make your passwords foolproof.
Alpha numeric passwords with uppercase/lowercase combinations are excellent choices. Symbols like ampersands (&) pound signs (#) can make a password more successful. Store these in a notebook or encrypted file on your computer for safekeeping. Change them often.
If you have many passwords for various sites, try a password management system such as Last Pass, which manages all your various passwords in one program.
3) Respect other's personal boundaries.
Don't post photos, addresses, phone numbers or anything else without their express written consent. if someone posts images of your holiday bacchanal without your permission, you have our blessing to unfriend them with prejudice.
4) When it comes to posts on Facebook or Twitter, the less personal the better.
Unless your post involves an image of Jesus or Tim Tebow on a piece of toast found in the Old Executive Office Building, we don't need to know what you ate for breakfast.
On the flip side, if your life experience directly connects with an issue you're trying to address like say, abortion or sexual assaults on college campuses, by all means share. Average Joes like nothing more than a bureaucrat who's open and honest. It doesn't make you weak, it makes you human--and there's nothing more powerful than the truth. Just remember the Hatch Act along the way.
5) Change your privacy settings often.
This could be really tricky for social media like Facebook or Twitter. You can access Facebook's privacy settings by going to home-->privacy settings. There you can customize your tags, edit how friends can access your profile, and much more. Never under any circumstances download an app to your profile—that's one way corporations can access your personal information.
Twitter is a bit different. Just go to [account name]---->settings--->account. There you can change your password, profile name and email. The instructions are all fairly self-explanatory.
Just like Facebook, don't download apps for any reason unless it's something like Tweet Deck or Bit.ly. Remember, if it seems too good to be true...it probably is.
Social media is not an easy place to navigate. But with a little common sense and information, you can get through it with your career and dignity intact.