Whether you're a parent with a young teenager using Facebook for the first time, or you're new to the service yourself, here's how to get the best from it while staying safe.

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With nearly a billion members, Facebook is the world’s biggest social network. Its presence in so many homes and pockets makes it a brilliant tool for families and friends to keep in touch, but if you don’t use the service wisely, its popularity can also cause some challenges.

 

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We’ve been talking to Facebook’s Simon Milner, the company’s UK policy Director, on the various ways people can ensure that they’re getting the most out of Facebook while staying safe and secure. Read on for his top tips…

Controlling your own experience

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“As a starting point, I think the best and simplest piece of advice is to only accept requests from people you really know,” Simon tells us. “If you accept a request and someone turns out not to be who you thought they were, then block them. They won’t be able to see you – they’ll be out of your Facebook experience permanently. The most important thing is that you control your Facebook experience, and it’s important to use that power wisely.

“It’s the exact same advice you get from your parents and teachers about not talking to strangers, only here it’s online.”

It’s good advice: it’s not wise to make friends with strangers online. But is there another risk inherent to social networks? With young teenagers exposing their thoughts and actions to a potential audience of millions we’re keen to find out Simon’s views on how our online selves – our ‘digital footprint’ – will stay with us.

“The fact is that we all carry with us a reputation as we grow older,” he tells us, “so I think that the idea of the digital footprint is definitely something that we need to help young people manage.”

 

 

“However, this notion that everything you do online is available to everyone, all the time and forever is not true. On Facebook, you control who your friends are and you control the audience for everything you post with privacy settings. There are tools that make it easy to share things with just a small collection of friends, for example.

“I would advise people to look at their Activity Log from their profile – it shows everything you’ve ever done on Facebook, and if you did something years ago that you now want to make more private, you can do that.

“We encourage people to do that and provide the tools to manage things like the photos they’re tagged in etc., and we provide lots of guidance on how to do it, but we can’t do it for you. Either way, though, it’s misguided to suggest that everything you’ve ever done online will follow you forever and will be available to everyone. You can curate your posts in all kinds of ways.

Top tips for parents

You can join Facebook from the age of 13, and Simon tells us that huge numbers of families use the service in a variety of ways – whether it’s chatting from different continents, sharing photos or moments. If you’re a parent and want to make sure your kids are getting the most out of Facebook and staying safe, Simon’s got a handful of top tips:

1. Use it yourself
“There are all kinds of things that parents should do when they’re sitting down with their children and signing up to Facebook. Firstly, there’s no better way to understand how something works than to use it yourself – we advise you to use the service and get to know how it works.”

 

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2. Do your homework
“Take a look at our Family Safety Centre. There’s advice that’s specially designed for teenagers, parents and teachers, all there to help people understand how to manage their experience. Look at our partner websites, too. The UK Safer Internet Centre has lots of useful information on using Facebook and other services in a safe way. There’s also loads of information in our Help Centre – lots of new information about things like online bullying for example.”

 

 

3. Create a family group
“One of the things we see is that teenagers don’t really want to be friends with their parents. That’s fine, but with the Groups feature you can share things without being ‘friends’. Imagine if you’re going on a road trip with your parents in the summer, you could put ideas for where to go into that group and only your other family members will see that. It’s a different way to see a family conversation without necessarily having to be friends with one another. It’s a closed group that nobody else on Facebook will know exists. When used properly, it’s one of our best tools.

“Like everything,” Simon says in closing, “whether it’s the manual for your phone or reading the Highway Code when you learn how to drive, our best advice is to do some background reading and get acquainted with the service.”

Family friendly… For everything you need to help your family get better connected, check out the Family Hub at Vodafone.co.uk/family.