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Social Media New Year's Resolutions: Staying Sane, Safe And Pleasant

Social Media New Years Resolutions

Posted: 12/30/11 10:47 AM ET

In years past, my New Year's resolutions have focused on improving my habits offline: going to the gym, cutting back on snacks, finishing "Paradise Lost."

But given how much more time I spend in front of a screen these days -- approximately every waking hour, minus showers and dinnertime -- this year it seemed appropriate to set rules for how I spend my time online in the New Year, specifically when it comes to socializing on the web

Statistics show I'm not alone in my unhealthy attachment to electronics. Over a third of Americans spend more than seven hours a day looking at electronic screens, according to one recent poll, and sites like Facebook stand a good chance of being open on those devices.

With hopes that these may inspire you to consider your own online habits in 2012, here are my 5 social media-related resolutions for the New Year:

I will change my passwords. I know how crucial it is to refresh account passwords regularly, I know how devastating it can be when an account is hacked, and I know my inability to remember more than a handful of codes mean I'm often remiss in changing things up. Yet considering the growing threat posed by cyber attacks and the trove of personal data I've shared with sites like Facebook over the years, I resolve to make 2012 the year of more passwords and fewer excuses.

Switching passwords on your online accounts should be as routine as changing your sheets -- you're just asking for a mess if you don't do it. The inconvenience of having to memorize new passcodes pales in comparison to the headache of trying to regain access to a compromised account, let alone managing the fallout from having personal information put at risk (just ask James Fallows). If you're like me and have trouble keeping track of more than a few logins, you can use a password manager, such as 1Password, KeePass or LastPass, to generate and remember hard-to-crack keys for each of your accounts. You'll only need to memorize a single master code that unlocks the password manager, which in turn syncs with your accounts to help you access them. If you choose to change your passwords the old fashioned way, however, be sure you steer clear of the 25 worst passwords.

I won't "check in" at the expense of eye contact, and I won't tweet if it interrupts a conversation. Moments after sitting down for coffee with a friend, I'll find myself speaking to a scalp, my seatmate too preoccupied with the phone in her lap to look up.

I'm guilty of doing the same and I need to cut it out.

I realize nothing says "you're boring me" like interrupting a conversation to tend to a screen, yet my iPhone has ended up propped against plates or covertly covered by the hem of a tablecloth on more occasions than I care to admit. As anyone who has been put on hold for an email or Foursquare check-in can attest, it's a huge bummer to feel like the person you're with would rather speak to someone who isn't there than chat with you. To all my relatives and friends who've sat through my status updates, I promise to save the social networking for times when I'm not already being social. It's rude, it makes the other person feel bad and whatever I'm doing can almost always wait. Now and again there will be urgent emails, but I'll work on focusing on "urgent," not "unread."

Social media addicts who shudder to think of going more than an few hours without a status update should consider using apps such as TweetDeck or HootSuite to schedule future posts that can be published while you're focusing on offline fun.

I will tweet at least two things about someone else for every one I tweet about myself. This one's self-explanatory: share the love. I appreciate it when people tweet about an article I've written and imagine others also welcome a nod in Twitter posts for something they've said, done or written, online or off. An @-mention in a tweet, provided it's positive, is like a thumbs-up: free, limitless and friendly. The 2:1 ratio has the added benefit of helping to stave off "windbag" status, too.

If you're unfamiliar with @-mentions on Twitter, keep in mind a few things: Including the person's Twitter handle in your tweet (i.e. "@bbosker") rather than their full name ("Bianca Bosker") is the most reliable way to ensure he or she will see you've mentioned them. On the redesigned version of Twitter.com, you can track whether people have mentioned you by clicking the “@Connect” tab, then navigating to "Mentions."

I'll delete apps I no longer use. Think of it as social media spring cleaning. An increasing number of online services allow users to log in via their Facebook and Twitter accounts, and it can be difficult to keep track of which apps I've given permission to post on my Facebook wall, read up on my friends or access my personal information. There's no reason to allow apps I no longer use to stay plugged into to my data, especially when I can re-approve them at any time in the future.

To check which apps you've synced with your Facebook account, click "Privacy Settings" in the top right-hand corner of your homepage, then "Apps and Websites." On this page, you can see which apps you've authorized to access your Facebook profile, as well as what information they can tap into, what data they've accessed and when, and who can see your activity on that app. Click "edit" for detailed information about each app, or to remove them from your account.

To check which apps you've synced with your Twitter account, click "Settings" under your avatar in the top right-hand corner of your Twitter homepage, then select the "Applications" tab. You can see which apps have permission to access your Twitter account and "revoke access" for apps you no longer use.

I'll perform a privacy audit. I long ago gave up the idea that anything I post on social networks will stay private, but that doesn't mean I can't take steps to keep some items covered up. Though I tend to think I'm more conservative than many when it comes to what personal information I share ("Relationship status?" Pretty forward, Facebook...), I've been horrified at some of the photos I've left up for public consumption, and was unpleasantly surprised a few months ago to find a Facebook app had continued publicizing my listening habits even after I said no.

For most, myself included, Facebook is the place to start. If you liked filing your taxes or hand-addressing your holiday cards, you'll love reviewing your Facebook privacy settings. It's about as fun as flossing, but if it keeps that one holiday party photo shielded from the right people, it's worth it.

There are a few basic spot checks users should perform. First, take a lay of the land: click the blue downward-pointing arrow next to "Activity Log" on the new Timeline to see how your profile appears to any other user, whether it's a close friend or perfect stranger. You can even enter a specific person's name and check out what she sees when she views your profile. That'll give you a good feel for how much work there is to do.

Next, access your privacy settings on Facebook by clicking "Privacy Settings" in the top right-hand corner of the page. Though there are too many options and alternatives to go into fully here, take a look at our guide to key Facebook privacy settings for a tutorial, or read through the AP's detailed guide to scrutinizing your sharing on Facebook.

On any social media site you belong to, it's also worth scrutinizing your "friends" to be sure they are who you think they are. Spammers may try to weasel information out of you by setting up fake profiles and sending friend or follow requests, so be cautious of accepting connection requests from people you don't know.

What social media resolutions are you setting for the new year? Share your own in the comments below, or tweet them to me at @bbosker.

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