Posted Mar 01, 2010 08:30 am CST
Now that more than 200 million people have joined Facebook, lawyers are starting to experiment with this most popular form of social media. It’s not that lawyers feel it’s especially safe to do so, but they recognize that Facebook is a place they probably need to be.
Not surprisingly, lawyers talk a lot about privacy and security concerns they have there, and their wariness is justified. As you may know, Facebook recently made some big changes to its privacy controls that created some controversy.
If you follow the simple steps below, you will be in the top 1 percent or 2 percent of lawyers using Facebook when it comes to good privacy and security. However, I can’t protect you from your own lapses in good judgment. I can’t say too often: “Think before you post.”
Here are my five best tips, whether you are just signing up for an account or have been a longtime member.
1) Use a strong password and change it on a regular basis. A corollary: Don’t give your Facebook password to anyone who asks for it, especially if the request comes in an e-mail or message. Phishing is the term used for efforts made by the bad guys to obtain your username and password, and phishing efforts abound in the Facebook world. There are also plenty of stories of passwords being guessed or stolen and accounts compromised and misused.
The solution is to take great care with your password, use a strong password and change it on a regular basis. By “strong” I mean a password consisting of a string of eight or more characters with a combination of letters, numbers and symbols that don’t include words, a common pattern or obvious numbers or names. The best thing you can do after reading this column is to change your Facebook password.
2) Review and make appropriate changes to your privacy settings. Facebook has a profile privacy page that lets you establish settings for who can see a variety of different types of information and otherwise lets you control your privacy settings. Go to it, review and understand the default settings, and make appropriate adjustments. A word to the wise: Think long and hard before you make anything available to everyone.
3) Be discriminating in your use of Facebook apps. Several people I know have installed Facebook apps (games, etc.) and later found, to their embarrassment, that all their Facebook friends had learned the latest movie they saw or how much they won playing online poker. Apps also ask for your username and password, another area of concern.
4) Take control of what others can put on your page. Your wacky friends in real life are likely to be wackier on Facebook. Some of their material might be displayed on your Facebook page or “wall” unless you adjust your settings. A common area of concern is photos that people tag with your name.
5) Consider using “friend lists.” Facebook allows you to create lists of friends (family, work, classmates, etc.) and treat the friends in each list differently in terms of what they can see and do.
Friend lists are a great answer to the question: “What should I do if my boss wants to friend me?” They take some work to set up and maintain, but for lawyers who plan to friend clients, friend lists are a must.
You also must keep up with developments in Facebook privacy and security, and expect to see continuing development of the ethical rules as they apply to lawyers using Facebook.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has some great resources on Facebook privacy issues, especially the recent changes. The new edition of Facebook for Dummies by Leah Pearlman and Carolyn Abram is a great starting place. It will also help you understand how versatile a platform Facebook really is.
Lawyers are definitely moving onto Facebook. It has great potential, but you need to be smart about how you use it.
And I cannot stress too much the need to always use good judgment when using social media.
Dennis Kennedy is a St. Louis-based computer lawyer and legal technology writer. His website, DennisKennedy.com, is the home of his blog. Contact him at