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Social media: How to protect yourself from threats

by Norton-Team

Social media usually only appears in the news when it’s at its worst: when predators are poaching potential prey online; when people are threatened by violence; or when hate groups find a place to coordinate. 

This is only part of the picture, though, as social media has enriched millions of lives around the world, from helping to remind teenagers that they’re not going through hard times on their own to aiding the Arab Spring in 2010 to the everyday things, like sharing baby pictures and funny stories.

Social media is an inextricable facet in modern lives, a tap of information and communication that cannot be switched off (nor would we want it to be). With 300 million people on Instagram, 284 million on Twitter and a jaw-dropping figure of 1.59 billion active users on Facebook, social media is very much here to stay.

There is a dark side to social media and, unfortunately, due to the democratic nature of the internet, criminal and antisocial elements have access to it too.  


Here are the risks of social media, and the steps you can take to ensure that you and your loved ones enjoy social media for what it should be: a welcome tool for enhancing and expanding our real life and online relationships.

Risks of Social Media

People sometimes forget how closely the digital world and real world are connected. What’s said to an avatar picture over the web is read and absorbed by a real person. Here’s what to look out for…

Burglary and theft
This was one of the earliest social media-related crimes to emerge, and still happens today. Burglars used to check death and wedding notices in newspapers to find out when homes would be empty; now they scan social media to find people who’ve left their address online and who are on holiday. And as we all know, holiday pictures are among the most common social media updates.

Identity theft
Online criminals often follow the breadcrumb trail we leave behind and build a duplicate or fake identity from those details. Avid users and (dare we say) over-sharers on the likes of Facebook and Instagram are providing criminals with perhaps more information than intended. This information can be used to create false IDs (such as driving licences and passports) or worse – to create false credit cards or raid bank balances.

Harassment and bullying
An unfortunate side-effect of social media, harassment and bullying can be particularly hard to prevent.
And even administrators of Facebook groups or pages have trouble deleting comments. Twitter, on the other hand, has a handy “block” button, but its users can hide more easily in anonymity. The best approach to any online abuse is to report and block. Never engage. 

Phishing, malware and ransomware
Links to sites containing viruses and malware still appear in comments on blogs and social media. Usually these are pretty easy to spot, but it’s good to be wary of links from someone you don’t know (or someone you do know who may have had their account hacked).

A huge amount of social malware is shared by users themselves, so always be wary of any links that end up in your message box.

Embarrassment and unwelcome professional consequences
This one is more of a self-inflicted danger of social media: stories of wild nights out, controversial diatribes, dirty jokes or foul-mouthed, impassioned debates are (for better or worse) part of the DNA of social media. And while your friends will understand why you included that gallery of a wild night out on Instagram, your potential (or current!) employer might not.

A good rule of thumb is to imagine your mother and your boss seeing every social media post. Would they be shocked or appalled by your behaviour? Then maybe think twice before posting.  


Misuse of photographs

Recently, a spate of photographs were taken from social media and used without the subject’s permission. Sometimes this is done legally, as demonstrated by this Daily Mail article about an artist who uses other people’s Instagram photos without their permission.

While relatively innocent, it’s a reminder that Instagram owners don’t own the copyright to their pictures on the site. There have been more unwelcome uses of photos from social media, such as using pictures without permission in ads in other countries – and even photos (of adults, teens and even children) being used in pornographic sites.

These examples paint a sinister and intimidating picture of social media. But most of these (and other dangers) can be prevented or avoided by following the guidelines below.  

How to avoid issues with social media

Unfortunately, rude and antisocial behaviour cannot be stopped entirely, but there are many steps you can take to ensure a safer online experience overall.

Limit personal information
This applies equally to personal pages (such as Facebook) and professional ones (like LinkedIn). Private pictures should not be public, your online CV shouldn’t be fully comprehensive (to protect from identity theft) and no account should have your home address or personal phone number.

Sarah Palin was hacked using personal information found online. Hackers reverse-engineered password information based on available Palin info. You might not be as famous as the former Vice Presidential candidate, but is every morsel of personal info absolutely necessary?

Read the small print

There are countless variations on your privacy settings on social media, so take a moment to browse the privacy settings. For example, you can set your Facebook updates and pictures as “public” (not recommended) or visible only to friends or to a specified group.

Some social networks are public by default, and some are not. If you do opt for a fully public profile (a work-related Twitter account for instance), don’t share everything.

Don’t over-share your real name
Pseudonyms (on the likes of Skype, Whatsapp, Snapchat and sometimes Twitter) exist for a reason. Yes, your aunt on Facebook will want to be able to find you, but don’t feel compelled to share this information with strangers and with every site.

And don’t over-share personal details
As mentioned earlier, real-world criminals like to source valuable information about empty homes online. So if you are going to leave your home for two weeks, don’t announce it on social media. And if you must share holiday details, do so only when your social media account can be seen by friends and family.  


Use strong passwords
Needless to say, your social media site should be accessible only to you. A strong password will do the trick, so please don’t use an easily guessable one. “123456” was the most popular password of 2015, followed by “password” and, further down the top 10, “qwerty” and “football”. This article outlines how to craft passwords that are secure and easy to remember.

Control comments (your own and other people’s)
People often forget that their comments underneath articles or as part of social media discussions are often (if not usually) public. Watch what you say in a comment under, say, a BuzzFeed article or on a friend’s social media page.

If you run a site or a blog of your own, you can filter comments so they won’t run without your approval. This might seem like unnecessary admin, but you don’t want to neglect your blog or site for a few days only for it to become plagued with phishing or malware links.

Remember why social networks are free
How does Facebook, a free service, generate billions of pounds a year? Because the information you provide has value. Many (if not most) social networks make their money from ads and selling on user information.

You should be aware of this when you’re doing a quiz, using an app or logging into a site that asks for access to your social media accounts. For the most part, granting information is harmless, as it’ll only be used to advertise to you. But it’s wise to be aware that logging in with social media accounts leaves you vulnerable.

Be wary of unwelcome friend requests from strangers
Everyone likes to be popular, but friend requests are a common way for criminals to source victims’ information. Even on business sites like LinkedIn (which rewards extensive networking) it’s wise to check out the profile before reciprocating a request.

On the likes of Facebook, it’s a good idea to only befriend people you are friends with in real life (or people with whom you share at least a handful of mutual real-life friends). Again, try to behave as you would in the real world.

Safe Social Fun

Social networking – in general – has made the world a richer, warmer, friendlier place. It’s soared past borders, broadened the way we communicate and made it easy to keep in touch with friends and make new ones.

Staying safe online only requires a little attention: think of it like a party with your friends from all over the world. Take it easy, enjoy, and be careful about the information you give out.
Would you share all of your personal information with a perfect stranger?

Exactly. So why take that risk online?  

This entry was posted on Fri Dec 30, 2016 filed under how to guides , online safety and social media

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