Social Networkers who go "off the grid"

Bridget and I wrote this column for today's paper:

We've noticed a phenomenon lately with folks and social networking: people who go ''off the grid.'' That's what we call people who are on networks but are skittish about being in contact with people . . . which seems to go against the point of joining a social network, right?

Not always.

We talked to quite a few people who are off the grid (and not surprisingly, wanted to remain anonymous). These are people who have suddenly become extremely private.

One female Poked reader joined Facebook because her co-workers were talking it up as a good communication tool that could also help in her work. But once she got there, she was uncomfortable:

``I felt like a lot of people that I didn't care about or who I didn't want to talk to suddenly wanted to connect with me, and it creeped me out.''

Another reader joined Facebook as a marketing tool to connect with strangers. He said he found he couldn't stand the ''virtual smalltalk'' and felt like he had been catapulted back into high school.

''Is there an age that's too old for Facebook? Yes!'' he said.

The 30-something reader thinks he's too old and headed toward LinkedIn, which he sees as ageless.

Both of their immediate ways to resolve the problem was to go off the grid, albeit in different ways. Our female reader limited her profile so it wasn't searchable -- and if you found her, you couldn't send a friend request -- or any message, for that matter. Our male reader simply stopped logging on.

We struggle with this, too. Bridget joined Facebook four years ago during college, when it was more about keeping track and maintaining only a social life -- not for professional reasons

I usually let friend requests pile up, because I just don't want to deal. Initially I wanted them to connect with me on LinkedIn, but that's problematic if they're not on that network.

This is how we've dealt with it. We respect that some people use Facebook as a contact for acquaintances, so Facebook becomes the I-met-you-at-that- chamber-event-last-week, I-haven't-seen-you-in-20-years, or we-were-in-kindergarten-together kind of social network. That's not us. But we want those people to be able to contact us, too. So we've ├╝ber-limited their access. They only see the bare bones of our Facebook pages. (Helpful hint: Go to your friends page on Facebook to create a label for a group of friends, and set up what that group can see in your privacy settings.)

And our first reader who went off the grid? She went back on Facebook on Inauguration Day, inspired by all the status updates, notes and photos of friends -- and acquaintances -- who were not just in Washington, but all over the world sharing their experiences. ''I kind of got to live that with them,'' she said And isn't that the beauty of a social network: Learning or experiencing things outside of your circle?

Have you gone off the grid for different reasons?

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Did a drunken MySpace photo cost student her degree?

Yet another tale of caution when it comes to mixing social networking with the professional world. A student-teacher at Millersville University sued her school, saying she was denied a degree because of a photo on her MySpace page where she was a "drunken pirate," the Washington Post reports. She said it was free speech, but a Pennsylvania court said no because she was a public employee, and ruled in favor of the school.

It seems there were other factors involved here than just one photo. And no matter if you agree or not with the court's decision, it's just another reason to make us all paranoid about the photos we put on social networking sites.

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Watch out for the Koobface Worm on Facebook

This problem isn't new, but a number of my Facebook friends have been attacked this week with the Koobface worm and have been sending me malicious links without knowing it.

In light of this, I just wanted make a post about it for all of you that may not be aware how it works... because it seems several of my older Facebook friends are spreading the virus because they may not know any better...

DO NOT click on any strange link sent to you via a Facebook message or wall post. On two I got today, the subject lines were "Sexy video with u." and "You're very sexy on this vid. i envy you." and the message had a long link in it. You can also tell it's not real because it was sent to tons of people, so obviously it wasn't a video of me... unless 100 people were in the same sexy video with me. And I think I would remember a video like that.

When you click on the link, it prompts you to download software to watch a video and then it spams all your Facebook friends with the malicious link. This type of worm is also found on MySpace.

If you think you clicked on a link like this, visit the Facebook Security Center, scan your computer for viruses and reset your password.

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