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11/1/2007
08:04 PM
K.C. Jones
K.C. Jones
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Craigslist Slaying Spotlights Need For Online Safety

The murder of a young woman answering a job ad on Craigslist is a sad reminder of potential danger when people connect online and subsequently meet up in the real world.

The murder of a young woman answering a job ad on Craigslist is a sad reminder of potential danger when people connect online and subsequently meet up in the real world.Reports from The Associated Press indicate that the victim, 23-year-old Katherine Ann Olson, had taken some online safety precautions listed on Craigslist. She apparently told her roommate about the ad she was answering and she brought her cell phone along.

Olson's trusting nature and online presence served her well until last week. They allowed her to make more friends and explore her options in life. The valedictorian loved to travel. She took an acrobatics class in Argentina and lived in Turkey.

Answering an ad for babysitting may not have seemed like a high-risk move to an adventurous and open person with plenty of positive experiences and online interactions through sites like Facebook and Craigslist.

What happened to Olson was not her fault, but she may have let her guard down. Her roommate has said that Olson mentioned something seemed strange about the ad or the person posting it, according to AP. And, she may have met the person who posted the ad in a private home.

Since social networking, online classifieds, and online communities are useful -- and they aren't going to disappear any time soon -- I would like to start a discussion here about online safety.

Craigslist advises users to meet in a public place, trust their instincts, bring their cell phones, and consider bringing a friend when they meet someone in the real world for the first time.

There also are countless tips on sites that focus on Internet safety for children. When I read them, I'm reminded of Robert Fulgham's "All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten." In other words, the children's and teens' tips are pretty good guidelines for adults, too.

They remind us that people online aren't always who they seem to be. They tell us not to give out personal details like our ages, genders, addresses, phone numbers, and real names. I would add to that: If you feel compelled to give out some of that information, then do not give out pieces that one could link to prey on you. In other words, keep in mind that the reader could be one of the "bad guys," and divulge as little as you can until you feel certain you can trust the recipient.

Gavin de Becker, an expert on predicting management and violence, stresses the importance of following one's instincts. His book "The Gift Of Fear" (Dell; 1998), explains in detail how people sense danger and either heed or ignore it. It also contains real-world recommendations that can easily be put to use online. And, Fulgham's words, embraced by many before the Internet became a part of daily life, tell us: "It is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together."

In that spirit, I would like to invite readers to post ideas and tips for improving online safety, particularly with sites that encourage real-world encounters, in the comments section at the bottom of this post.

I have met some of the people who operate Web sites like Craigslist, MySpace and Facebook. I believe most have the best of intentions and do all they can to protect their users. But, maybe they could use some more ideas to make sure they're not overlooking little changes that could make a big difference.

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