Online Reputation

Use caution when posting personal health information

Jane Forbes has spent a lot of time teaching her four teenage sons how to manage their severe hemophilia A. But lately, she’s been concerned about a trickier problem—whether her sons should discuss their health conditions on social networking sites.

Although Forbes sees value in getting support from others online, the Los Angeles nurse is concerned about who might want information about her sons for less-than-benevolent reasons.

“Adult home care representatives have been on my children’s Facebook pages. They’re trying to make a connection so they can start soliciting their business when they’re 18,” Forbes says. She’s also concerned that friends and followers on social networking sites may not be who they say they are.

Forbes’ concerns are justified. People are sharing more of their lives online these days. But wise users are careful with what they share. Here are several ways to make sure your online comments about your health don’t create a problem later:

Protect your privacy. When you start using social media sites, adjust your privacy settings to limit outsiders’ access, advises Jay Buerck, the St. Louis-based chief operating officer of Online Rep Management, which helps people improve their online images. Only let your family and close friends peer into your profiles on these sites—by “protecting” your tweets on Twitter so that only approved followers can see what you post, for example, or by restricting your profile settings on Facebook so that minimal personal information is visible to people who are not your friends.

Think before you click. “Once you post something online, you have to expect that it could go to a very wide audience that you have no control over,” says Scott Sobel, president of Media & Communication Strategies, a crisis communications and reputation management firm in Washington, DC. “Be careful with what you put out there, including your private communication that can be discoverable during legal processes.”

And it’s not strictly social networking sites you should worry about. Choose your words with care when you discuss your health on online forums or message boards, when you leave comments about businesses on review sites like Yelp, or when sharing information about yourself on dating sites.

Stay positive. If you have a bleeding disorder and want to discuss it online using your name, try to portray it in an upbeat way, suggests Nikki Means, CEO of Project Socialize, a Cincinnati, Ohio, social media marketing company. That means not talking about needing sick days, which might not go over well with a current or future employer. A better approach: Share ideas about how people with bleeding disorders can be productive at work.

Be wary of strangers. If a stranger asks to “friend” you—and your only common interest is bleeding disorders—take time to think through the possible ramifications of accepting the invitation, says Forbes. Consider whether the person is someone you want to have access to the details of your private life.

With proper precautions beforehand, you can protect your reputation online and enjoy the benefits of connecting with people near and far.

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