According to news reports, this morning a twenty-something man entered the Roseville Galleria (an upscale mall just outside Sacramento), walked into a store and told the employees to leave. He then locked himself in and allegedly set the place on fire. He's now in custody. Luckily no one was hurt, though there's a tremendous amount of damage to the now closed mall.
A few minutes online revealed that I was more connected to the suspect than I thought. Turns out, he was a friend of a friend.
Well, not really. He was a friend of a friend in Facebook terms. After hearing his Facebook profile mentioned on the news, I did what I think a lot of people did - I looked him up. I was surprised when Facebook informed me I had "1 friend in common.” Turns out that our shared “friend” (a former classmate, we'll call him/her "Chris") went to the same school as the suspect and based on that had long ago accepted a friend request. The important thing to remember is that Chris didn't actually know the suspect in real life despite the shared school.
I went to Chris's wall (Facebook terminology for the space on your profile where your friends can post messages) and saw a few people inquiring about the connection, “Chris? You knew the suspect?” I emailed Chris privately and said, "You should unfriend him, tons of people are going to be looking at that profile and will be asking you if you know the dude." The suspect has a public profile - so anyone with a Facebook account can see everything he has ever posted. This has lead to news outlets reading his status updates as part of the breaking news.
Lets take this moment as a good reminder not to friend random strangers. Surely its not worth risking being guilty by association or having to answer embarrassing questions that might arise in the future. If you haven’t already, as soon as you’re finished reading this, you should check to see if you're Facebook profile is set to private.
As my mom, and every mom, used to remind us, it’s important to wear a clean pair of underwear in case of accident. A clean and private online presence is the “clean underwear” of the social networking world.
It’s too late for the suspect. He’s sitting in jail right now and can't turn his Facebook page off. His dirty underwear was exposed to the entire world. Surprisingly, Facebook appears to have intervened and cut off access to it. Most likely it’s some kind of automated shutoff due to the number of people posting to the profile. By now, most of us have seen The Social Network and we know Facebook doesn’t care about our privacy.
While TV has broadcast the information in his profile, we didn't need TV to tell us what's on his Facebook page, we can go see ourselves. I wonder if all the people with public profiles who are talking about him know that anyone can see their posts? (I have purposely not mentioned the suspect’s name, it just didn’t seem right when I was telling people to protect their privacy. However, you can click here to see it, via YourOpenBook.org - and yes, this will give away his name.)
Now, go put on a clean pair of internet underpants! Clean up your Facebook friends and make your profile private. That way, you’ll never have to live with the humiliation of Katie Couric reading your status updates on the evening news.