As far as internet safety is concerned, the biggest threat often appears in the form of malware or tricks that allow hackers access to our bank details or other important personal information.
Social media can act as a platform through which said hackers can operate. Whether it’s through correctly guessing your password (which is easier than you might imagine), dodgy links sent under the guise of your friends’ accounts, or simply a case of oversharing on our part.
In this article we’ll assess some of the biggest risks associated with social media in this day and age, and how best to avoid them in the future.
In life, we tend to keep our biggest secrets to ourselves, and if we do decide to disclose them, it’ll likely be to our closest friends who have earned our trust. But what happens when you let your guard down, maybe you’ve had a bit too much to drink or are consumed by strong emotions, and you have access to a social media account?
Keep the Personal, Private.
Whereas in the past a rant was just that, these days that same rant could be broadcast to the whole world with just a tap of the finger.
It is as such that a moment of madness can come back to haunt you in the future; an unpopular opinion can land you in hot water with potential employers; a secret shared can be used against you at a later date.
With this in mind, we have to be careful what we post to social media and ensure that we’re not tempted to press publish on something which could be potentially damaging to us at another point in time.
This also goes for interactions we have with friends on social media. While you may think this form of messaging is between just you and them, a log of the text will be kept and so it’s best not to discuss really personal matters or credit card information for example. Especially since all it would take is your Facebook (or other social media platform) account to be hacked, and that information is no longer secure.
Something that a lot of people don’t think twice about, posting pictures and videos of family, or close friends, can be dangerous.
The more clear a picture you provide through social media as to your friends, family, and personal life, the more information you are giving away to people who could use it to harm you.
While this is not an especially likely scenario, and most people post daily content involving friends and family, there are some things to bear in mind when posting this type of content.
First, try to avoid posting too much multimedia content of your children. While your friends and family love and appreciate the updates, if this content gets in the wrong hands, it could cause a lot of pain and distress. Especially since the photos and videos will be in a public forum if you decide to post them on social media.
One way to secure this type of content is to make sure that when you post or publish it, you set your privacy settings so that only friends or family will be able to view it.
There’s also the notion that your child or children might not appreciate certain content being made publicly available, at least when they grow up. This is an issue that should be discussed within the family, and be given some real thought.
There’s a thoughtful article by Forbes on the issue of ‘sharenting’, which is definitely worth a read.
The Dangers of Anonymity
The last way in which we can succumb to the dark side of social media is through anonymity.
Anonymity is a perfectly valid way to have an online presence, should for whatever reason you prefer to keep your identity secret.
However, for some, anonymity is a mask to hide behind. The prevalence of internet ‘trolls’ is evidence of this. Unless you have a lot of followers, you might not have encountered this before, but if you do, I’m sure you’ve been on the receiving end of some unwarranted and unsolicited criticism at one time or another.
All you have to do is go on a celebrity’s social media feed, check the comments under an innocent post, and you’ll understand how toxic the culture of internet ‘trolls’ can be.
The lack of accountability provided by anonymity can be dangerous and gives people a way of criticising relentlessly without showing themselves or revealing their true identity.
Even people in respected professions can engage in this type of behaviour, given such anonymity and free reign to express their unsolicited opinions without repercussions. As a result, it’s worth thinking before you post a response to something someone said, and ask yourself whether you would say that to them in person.
The Power of Passwords
Something that a lot of people can take for granted, a password you create should be more complex than just the first thing that comes to mind.
Given how simple it can be for hackers to figure out your password, and subsequently get hold of your personal details, your best bet to keep yourself safe is password-protecting your social media accounts the right way.
Particularly when considering phone safety, passwords are crucial.
The Stronger, the Better
The definition of a strong, unique password, is one which contains a mix of letters, numbers, and symbols. It’s also ideally quite long.
The reason for having such a password is simple: it makes it much harder for hackers to figure out.
Once someone gets hold of your password, they won’t just get access to that account either, they can probably get into other accounts you have too, assuming you have the same password for different accounts.
That brings me to the second reason it’s important to have a strong, unique password, since if each of your accounts has a unique password, hackers won’t be able to cause a domino effect with your other accounts falling under their control.
Something which came to my attention recently is the idea of ‘brute forcing’. This refers to the automated process of trying every word in the dictionary until coming up with your password. A scary thought indeed, being aware of such a technique should make all of us want to make our password something complex, and nonsensical.
Another thing you should probably do if you haven’t already is make sure the device you use social media on is password-protected itself.
Having a strong password for your social media account is all well and good, but if you don’t have a password on your phone or tablet and you leave it on the table for a moment, you’re essentially leaving the keys to the door of your personal life on the table.
Of course, it goes without saying that the passwords for your accounts and your device should be different too, to make it as hard to crack as possible.
Scepticism is always a good thing when it comes to social media safety.
One misclick or lack of judgement could start a ripple effect which could have negative repercussions.
Just as you’re taught as a child, strangers on the internet should in most cases be avoided, especially when it comes to social media.
Cyber bullying is a dangerous reality if you aren’t careful online.
If somebody you don’t know reaches out to you or sends you a friend request, then you should take a moment before responding or accepting.
While adding someone you don’t know probably won’t be the end of the world, you never know who it is and what their intentions are. Especially if you have private information on your social media account, it’s best to exercise caution when it comes to people you don’t know.
Beware of Links
Internet safety 101: links can be deceptive. They are so easy to click but can cause huge damage to your device, or lead to malware that could compromise your personal data.
For the most part, clicking links from articles and trusted sources is fine, but once you enter certain parts of the internet you might be more likely to run into an undesirable, misleading link.
These links are often found in places where you might be caught with your guard down, so it’s best to avoid clicking links when you’re not on a secure, trusted website.
Yet, that’s not the biggest concern when it comes to links. Funnily enough, when it comes to dodgy links, your friends are the enemy.
What I mean by that is you would never expect your friends to send you a dodgy link through social media, and I’m sure they wouldn’t, but sometimes they do.
Hackers gain access to social media accounts all the time, and when they do, they often try to catch people out by posing as their friend and sending a link with an innocent-sounding message like “check out this funny video!”.
The best way to avoid this is to wonder to yourself if the text that accompanies the link is something your friend would typically say to you. Also consider how likely it is that they would send you a link out of the blue with some robotic-sounding line before clicking it.
To find out more about staying safe online, check out our comprehensive guide on the topic.