The use of social media has increased very quickly in the past years and new platforms are popping up all the time. We keep posting and sharing information of ourselves and people close to us to multiple different platforms on a daily basis, but is it safe to do so? Is there a way to use social media safely? This post offers some tips and guidance on how to stay safe on social media!
Social media platforms
There is a wide range of different social media platforms that are used by tens and hundreds of millions of people every single day. Social media platforms are a big part of our lives. Different platforms have different use cases and not all of them are just for fun or without any beneficial purpose. Social media is used a lot to share things about your lives with your friends, which is nice, but as sharing data is the core element of these services, we should be aware of what we are actually sharing and with who.
We all are probably familiar with Facebook, it is very widely used in almost every part of the world. You can share written updates, images and basically all of your personal details and even information who you are related to.
We have micro-blogging platforms like Twitter which is a very good place to follow news and interesting people who share knowledge and opinions. In Twitter, you most commonly share small texts and images related to your life or something interesting you come across.
Instagram is used to share images and videos. You can post these to your profile and they are stored until you delete them yourself. You can also post the images and videos to your “Instagram story” so that they are only visible for the next 24 hours.
Another image and video platform is Snapchat but the images and videos are commonly sent to the selected person. These can also be added to your “story” and they are visible to all your friends for the next 24 hours.
And many more..
There is almost a never-ending list of different platforms like the ones mentioned above and other platforms like Pinterest, Tumblr, Imgur, and Reddit. These are all places where the user might end up sharing their personal information on purpose or even without intending to do so.
Social media for parents
Here are some tips and guidance for parents to teach their kids to stay safe online and understand more about the various things related to social media. Here is a post that goes into more details on how to keep your children safe online.
As a parent, it is important to know what your children are doing online as they might not understand the consequences their online actions might have to their family, friends, or reputation in the future. This applies to the parents as well.
An especially important aspect of knowing about your children’s online activities is to ensure that there is no cyberbullying happening. May it be your kid who is bullying, being bullied or even witnessing it happening, everytime an action should be taken by a parent to stop it from happening.
What are you and your kids posting
A parent should also make sure that they or their kids are not posting material that falls in the following categories.
- Sensitive information (full name, birthdate, Social Security number, phone number, address, etc.)
- Compromising content (content that can affect reputation and future prospects)
- Unkind or angry content (malicious content, bullying, racism, opinions that are better to keep for yourself)
Who are you and your kids connected with
Social media allows us to connect with other people, but it’s a good practice to think before accepting any friend or chatting requests from unknown users.
Some people may also pretend to be someone else, or some other age. It is important to be sure who you are actually talking and sharing information with. If you don’t know someone you are not missing out on anything if you don’t accept their requests or answer their messages.
The level of privacy used
The level of privacy can be changed from the settings of the platform. These settings restrict who can view the profile, add as a friend, and send messages. Depending on the social media they might also have privacy settings for location tracking and geo-tagging of photos and statuses.
Be sure to review the settings of every application you are using as they might vary and the defaults might not be the ones you want to use. Usually underage users are guarded better and the privacy settings are more stricter by default. It is still a good idea to go through them to be sure.
Below are the percentages of teens in the USA using the internet and social media platforms according to The Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project: Teen Fact Sheet (2012).
Social media for teens and young adults
For teens and young adults it is also important to think about what kind of images, types of information, and location data they share, where they share it and who is able to see it.
Sharing and posting on social media
Sensitive information such as home address, phone number, Social Security number, birthplace and date or any other type of sensitive information shared on social media can be stolen and used on malicious purposes.
People who are actively looking or going to be looking for a job in the near future should pay close attention to what kind of material they post online. Employers and recruiters do look at your social media profiles and see how you act online. Companies want their employees to act respectfully and represent the company in a good way. Questionable content can include pictures, videos, and opinions that can harm the company and they are better off not hiring that kind of person at all.
Location data can reveal where you are and what time you visit your favorite. For a thief or a stalker, this can be very valuable information as the thief knows you are not home and the stalker can track you down easily. They can see your location and plan their actions based on the information they have gained on your publicly available information. Consider not publishing your location all the time and opt-out if an application wants to broadcast your live location.
Simple tips for using social media safely
- Think before you post, deleting can be hard as someone might have seen or stored it already
- Don't broadcast your location, at least not all the time
- Don't connect with people you don't know or trust
- Don't post everything online, some information is better to not post online
- Be active and speak up if someone posts inappropriate or offensive material online
Social media safety for bloggers
Bloggers, social media influencers, celebrities, and well-known persons have a lot of influence and following online. Usually, someone who is popular has also people disliking them, which is normal as pleasing everyone is impossible.
Common issues bloggers have on social media
Online accounts with large numbers of followers receive higher amounts of phishing and login attempts than “normal” accounts as they are juicy targets for spreading malware, advertising, and spam.
These accounts also get more harassment and even threats from the people who don’t like or agree with the content they publish, share, and promote. Controversial content is always dividing people and can be the cause of harassment, threats, and even hacking attempts.
Harassment and threats can be sent behind anonymous accounts that do not represent anyone. These users are hard to track down and if their account is closed they can open a new one. There is not too much we can do to avoid this, but some ways to reduce the amount of harassment and threats is to think twice before posting. Unnecessarily provoking content is better to not publish and controversial content can also be better to leave out. Of course, it’s not always possible to not post about something as there are important things that can be controversial but need to be publicly addressed. Just be prepared and know that not everyone on the internet is nice when they have different opinions and views.
Bloggers, social media influencers and other who share their daily life and other activities with a large crowd should be cautious as malicious actors, companies or other users can use the content without permission.
Social media tips for bloggers
- Think before you post, deleting can be hard as someone might have seen or stored it already
- Private blog is an option if you are not trying to make living with it
- Anonymous blog is an option if you want to keep the blog publicly available
- Control the comments, review and approve comments manually to avoid inappropriate comments
- Protect your blog, update regularly and use strong password and 2-factor authentication
- Report harassment and suspicious activity, serious threats are illegal even online
Additional online resources
If you are looking for resources to gain knowledge or to find help, I have gathered some helpful links below. Some of the resources listed are only helpful for people in the US, but you can search for educational material and help on your language and contact information of your local authorities.
- NSTeens.org, website for teens exploring online dangers and how to avoid them
- OnGuardOnline.gov, website with online safety resources for educators, parents and kids
- StaySafeOnline.org, website providing information, help and resources related to online safety
- MissingKids.org, website with education and help for kids