As of 2013, 73 percent of adults use some form of online social networking, according to the Pew Research Internet Project. Whether you choose Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or another online option, connecting to new people is easier than ever with the abundance of web-based networking choices. Online social networks bring a world of new friendship possibilities to you, while you stay put in your own home. That said, making friends online also means being cautious when it comes to giving personal information to virtual strangers.
Choose a social media platform. Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram are major social networking sites. Pick the specific site -- or sites -- based on what types of friends you are looking to make and for what reasons. For example, the Pew trends note that women are four times as likely to use Pinterest than men. If you're a woman who is looking to meet another woman with similar interests, Pinterest may be the way to go.
Create a profile. Although you'll need to disclose some personal information -- such as your name -- don't give away too much. Keep your specifics -- such as your home address and phone number -- to yourself.
Expect that other people may also be wary of providing personal information. Think about what you would -- or should -- put online and what you wouldn't. Avoid asking a new online "friend" for information that you wouldn't readily give out, such as a cellphone number. A two-year-long study on social media privacy behaviors showed that between 2009 and 2011 the adults surveyed progressively became more private and shared less personal information as they learned to mitigate privacy issues. Adults who have had social networking profiles for several years may understand privacy concerns or be more wary of sharing personal information than someone who is new to meeting friends online.
Remain selective when it comes to friend requests that you accept. It's easy to impersonate someone else online. Just because Joe Smith says he's a married father of four and a pillar of the community, doesn't mean that he isn't really an online predator. Start out by making connections through people you know in real life. For example, "friend" your college roommate's cousin. Verify that the profile actually belongs to the person who is claiming it by speaking to your real-life friend first.
Understand what the different types of messaging are, suggests the National Crime Prevention Council. For example, if you want to privately communicate with someone on Facebook you'll need to send the private message directly. Posting something directly to their wall or page may mean -- depending on their security settings -- that all of their friends can see it too.
Think about how you want others to see you or what types of friends you want to make. Once you put a picture or a quote out there, it's permanent. Deleting it doesn't guarantee that it will go away. Someone else could have already copied or downloaded it. For example, if you are looking to make friends who share your love of crafting, posting photos of yourself dancing on a bar isn't likely to attract the right match.
Balance a social interest in making friends online with a healthy skepticism or careful attitude about who you're meeting. Social media can help some people to create and maintain real friendships, according to education researcher Mark Connolly on the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the University of Wisconsin's website. Be careful about who you share with online, but allow yourself the freedom to chat with people who you know are who they say they are -- such as your best friend's sister.
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Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.