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Social Media Safety: The Ultimate Guide

by Norton-Team

With 1.5 billion users on Facebook, 1000 million on WhatsApp, 400 million on Instagram and 320 million on Twitter…and growing, it’s fair to say that social networking has been globally embraced. As social media becomes chocked with our daily lives and personal information, it’s important to think about social safety for you and those you care for.

The Basics 

Before we get started on some of the specific challenges users might face on different social networks, it’s important to cover the basics. Use this guidance from the first day you open an account and it will help you to have an enjoyable and secure experience online.

Passwords: with any personal account, are your first line of defence against attack by hackers. Ensure that your password is lengthy and difficult to guess, including numbers and both upper and lower case letters. Your passwords should also be unique for every account, so if one of your networks is compromised, the others are safe.

Smartphones are often enabled to record your co-ordinates, which can be stored on images that you may choose to upload to your network of choice. Location services can also be used for features such as the Check In option on Facebook, or as a location tag on Instagram.

Smartphones are enabled with this feature to allow apps such as Find My iPhone to work in the instance of losing your device or having it stolen. Social networks use them to help target users with relevant advertising, as well as to give you a record of where you’ve been or where a picture was taken, which some users like to remember for personal reasons.

All good social network apps should always ask you when you download the app if you want to enable location settings. Think carefully before you choose, and consider if you want your location to be public. This is an entirely personal choice, but be aware of the risks – namely cyberstalking, in which a person or business can monitor your location. If you have enabled location settings but want to disable them, you will be able to do so within the network’s Privacy Settings.

When sharing images online, avoid any personal identifying information, such as your street name, house number, car registration plate, credit and debit card or signage of your place of work/school. This kind of information can be used maliciously online, and so is best to avoid whenever possible.

Finally, think before you share. Once something is posted under your name, it can be online forever. Future employers, family members, friends and even complete strangers may be able to access something you have posted, so thinking carefully before you share is a sensible rule to follow.

Materials you share online can do more than embarrass you in a few years. Some material, such as explicit images of yourself if you are under 16 in the UK, are illegal to distribute. If you and/or your partner are under the age of consent, you are both liable for distributing and viewing child pornography. It’s best to avoid any chance of criminal charges by completely avoiding taking and sharing images of this nature, until you and your partner are of the age of consent. Parents should also be sure to talk with their children openly and honestly about this issue, to help guide them in their choice.

Apps requesting access to your account

A huge number of apps you can download through the App Store or Google Play will provide you with the option to connect the app with a social media account (typically, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram). They may do this by giving you the option to either ‘Connect with Facebook’ or manually input your personal information, such as your name and email address, before you can use the app.

Apps you allow access to your social media accounts may use some of your information (including name, age, location, friends list/followers, Likes, etc.), and sometimes may post on your behalf by, for example, using your account to encourage your friends to download the app themselves.

Many apps use this information to improve their services, understand their target market at a deeper level, and sometimes, to sell this information to third parties. In return, the app may reward users with ease of use, perks and benefits within the app (such as in-app currency) or advert-free use of the app.

As with the location settings, it’s an entirely personal choice whether to connect an app with your social media accounts. One thing to consider, however, is the risk of rouge, malicious apps, which are a primary concern for those using an Android device or jailbroken smartphone. To find out more about rogue apps, read our Ultimate guide to smartphone safety.

Combating cyberbullying

Highlighted in Channel 4’s Cyberbully (2015), cyberbullying has become a major concern across all social networks. There are countless cases of harassment online that people of all ages suffer every day, but some of the most shocking cases have been instances of children and young adults targeted and attacked over social media.

If you or someone you know is being bullied over social media, there are steps you can take to combat the harassment. Talking to a parent or teacher you trust are great first steps, as they can help you to see that you are not alone. You can also report content across the vast majority of networks which should then be removed (such as pages, images and videos), and you can ‘block’ certain profiles, which means they cannot contact you.

Cyberbullying can also take place over instant messaging apps, such as WhatsApp and Snapchat. For the latter, you can adjust your privacy settings to accept messages from your ‘Friends Only’, and also block users within your address book. WhatsApp works in line with your address book, so the best practice here is to block any bullies’ phone numbers on your device, rather than blocking through the app.


Facebook is the largest social network; everyone from your grandparents to your next door neighbour's dog has a profile. It is also the most personal network there is, in that the site actively encourages users to be open and honest with their identity, through elements such as full name, profile picture, life events, and friends list, rather than ‘followers’.

The site is designed to connect you with people that you actually know in real life. As such, it is always highly recommended to only accept Friend Invites from people that you know and trust.
Of course, it’s not always as straightforward as being able to trust those you know, and some of Facebook’s settings mean that your Wall and content is not always private. This is why it’s important to spend some time in your privacy settings, creating the kind of profile you want.

There are tonnes of options to choose from, allowing you to personalise the privacy settings on every element of your profile. Our recommended settings would be to show all of your content to “Friends Only”, though you can also choose to have your content viewable by “Friends of Friends”, and “Public”. Your privacy settings can be found on the head navigation bar, symbolised by a lock icon.


Twitter is a far more open social network than Facebook, in that it is designed to connect you with people you may not know. These people can choose to ‘follow’ you, and you can follow them back in return, though it is not required that users follow one another.
If you don’t want your profile to be public, you do have the option to make it private. This will mean that other users cannot follow you without your approval first. This is great from a privacy standpoint, but does mean that features such as retweets will not be available on your profile (i.e. no-one will be able to retweet you).

Hashtags are a huge part of Twitter, and what makes the platform so reactive and popular during current events and breaking news. They allow you to join in conversations that are taking place across the world. However, using them will also put you directly in the line of sight of someone who is following the hashtag.

News and media sites often embed tweets to their sites, which in turn, give the public access to the tweeter’s profile. It is worth keeping this in mind when choosing whether to have a public or private profile, and before tweeting about controversial topics.


Despite being owned by Facebook, Instagram has many similar features to Twitter. You can have a public or private profile (which has a very similar impact to Twitter as described above), use hashtags which people can search for, and your images can be embedded on news and media sites.

Identity theft can occur on all social networks, but it is particularly common on Instagram. Identity theft on this network means that someone will steal your images and post them as their own, pretending to be you. It can also involve an account reposting your images without credit, which is a violation of intellectual property.

To combat this, you can report an image as spam, which will then be assessed by someone at Instagram; they will decide if the photo should be removed or not. To provide the team with greater detail, you’ll need to know the perpetrator’s URL and go through the Instagram Help Centre to report them.


LinkedIn is different from the other networks in this guide, as it is specifically intended for professional networking online. This means that the content on the platform differs dramatically from other networks, as it is best practice to only post links and updates related to your profession.

Another unique aspect of LinkedIn is the feature notifying users as to who has viewed their profile. You will receive a notification when another user has viewed your profile and, in return, they will receive a notification when you have viewed theirs. If you wish your activity to remain private to other users, you can adjust your settings, but will then sacrifice the ability to see who has viewed your profile.

The very nature of the network means that you must be honest and open about your place of employment and profession. This means users are able to view where you work, and where you have worked in the past. You can create a private profile, which means that the general public cannot view your profile, and must connect with you before being able to do so. Again, you can adjust this within your account’s settings.

Identity theft can also be an issue on the site, primarily through phishing emails. The network allows messages to be sent to the email address you sign up to the account with, which is intended for prospective employers and connectors to approach you about a role. However, this can be used to phish for information about your password, bank details, and other personal information. Check out our article for essential anti-phishing tips to read up about best practice and security against the fraudulent behaviour.

Snapchat and WhatsApp

They may not technically be social networks, but with hundreds of millions of users across the instant messaging platforms, a lot of the security rules you should apply to networks like Facebook and Twitter should also be applied to WhatsApp and Snapchat.

Let’s first discuss Snapchat. Intended to allow you to share ‘in the moment’ content, the instant messaging app has developed to include functions such as My Story and Live feeds. The primary Snapchat function – in which users can send images to be deleted after a set time period – is designed as such that Snapchat does not store the content on their servers.

A major concern, however, is the ability for recipients to save and store the content they are sent by a user. There are various types of software and apps which are able to take a copy of an image and save it to their device. If you are a Snapchat user be mindful of these and take complete care in the images you share, as they can be saved and stored without your consent.

WhatsApp allows users to instant message one another over the internet. From a user’s perspective, the app works in an almost identical manner to general texting: the app connects users to the people in their phonebook who also have the app. WhatsApp users can also connect with those who are not in their phonebook by searching for their phone number within the app.

There are various levels of security and privacy users can set up within their settings. For best practice, we would recommend setting your privacy settings to only allow either My Contacts or Nobody to see your activity. Otherwise, anyone with your phone number will be able to see your profile picture and status, along with whether or not you have seen their message.

WhatsApp doesn’t store any of your messages or other content on their servers. However, like texting, once you have sent a message which has been received by another user, they have full access and control over that content, which means they can share and save anything you send them.

If you wish to retract a sent message, you have a small time period in which to do so. If a clock icon is shown on the bottom right corner of the message, it has not yet been sent. Disable your access to Wi-Fi and 3G/4G, and you will be able to delete the message without sending. However, given the increasing speed of 3G and 4G, as well as Wi-Fi, messages can be sent and received almost instantly. Once the tick icon has appeared on the message (showing that the recipients device has received the message), it cannot be retracted before being seen.

Social Safety in short

We’ve reached the end of our ultimate guide
to social media security. Let’s recap the main take-aways to help you and your
family stay safe online:

- Always think carefully before you share anything online

- Adjust your security settings within the network to keep your           information private

- Be aware of phishing and never give away your personal details online

- If you are being bullied, you can report and block users on       every main network

Talking openly and honestly with your family and taking careful consideration before you post anything on a network will help everyone to have a safe, happy and enjoyable experience online. 

How do you protect yourself in the online jungle? Find out in Social Media:The Complete Survival Guide or learn how to play safe in the social space...

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