Keeping yourself safe on Social Media

Social media allows people to connect remotely with friends, families, and coworkers, as well as express themselves and catch up on the latest news. The current events have highlighted the importance of social media as a way to connect with others safely – most of the time. Social channels do provide safe contact from a distance, but there are risks associated with its use, including cyber theft, online bullies, and trolling.

A report from consulting firm Kantar noted that current social media use is up 40% on channels such as Facebook, Instagram, and Whatsapp. If your usage has skyrocketed as you shelter in place, you need to know how to protect yourself now more than ever. Here are some ways to safeguard your privacy and avoid cyberbullies.

Lock down your Social Media accounts

According to the University of North Dakota, cybercriminals steal $3.25 billion by exploiting social media platforms. The thieves’ top targets are Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat. Online criminals mine for personal information, such as your full name, birthday, the names of people in your household, and more. Safeguard your personal data by taking a few steps to lock down your accounts:

  • Adjust your social media privacy settings to keep personal information such as your birthdate, location, names of friends and family, and other personal info out of reach from strangers.
  • Enable two-factor authentication for logins to reduce the likelihood that a hacker can log in to your account and take over your identity. With two-factor authentication, you’ll be prompted to enter a security code that’s been texted to your phone or answer one or more security questions.
  • Use strong passwords of eight or more digits long with a variety of characters to make it harder for cybercriminals to figure out.
  • Change your passwords regularly. Don’t use the same password for several accounts, just in case it’s compromised.
  • Look out for warning emails from your social media channels warning you of logins or unusual activity. Make sure the email is legitimate – some hackers will impersonate a social media platform to scare you into thinking you’ve been hacked and will ask you for personal data via email to “verify” it’s you.
  • Keep your smart device software and social media apps updated to reduce any potential software vulnerabilities.

Be more thoughtful of what you’re sharing

People overshare on social media. The majority of people are guilty, as they post their vacation photos, a tour of the new home they purchased, or photos of their new car. But what they don’t realize is who is watching. Facebook’s “View As” feature allows users to see what photos, check-ins, and other information a complete stranger can view. Many were shocked at what the public can access, thinking it was private.

But even if you hide most of your photos and information from anyone who is not a friend, friends of friends may still be able to view your activity. If you have Facebook friends that don’t have strong security features and have strangers on their friends list, these strangers may be able to view your photos and posts.

What’s most troubling about this, is people who share photos of their car where the license plate is showing, may have just revealed more information than they intended to a criminal who may have access to someone at the DMV who could look up their home address from the license plate photo. Or people who post live from their wonderful vacation may be giving thieves the green light to break into their house while they’re away on vacation.

Be more careful about what the photos you post reveal about you. Go into your Facebook settings and change who can see your posts and pictures to Friends only, instead of “Public” or “Friends of Friends”.

Monitor your kids’ use of online platforms

Kids and teens are especially vulnerable to cyberbullying and trolling online since they tend to spend more time on social media to connect with friends and peers and are, therefore, more exposed to online dangers. In many cases, their own classmates or other neighborhood kids may be the ones harassing them. But there also anonymous predators that may be stalking the networks kids and young adults tend to frequent most.

Protecting them from the dangers of the internet is challenging since being overly restrictive may cause your kids to become secretive. Besides, most teens are technology-savvy and know all the loopholes. Apps like Tumblr, Kik, and WhatsApp allow young users to hide conversations and chat with strangers in an unsecured environment.

Parents can monitor the internet usage of their kids by checking their browser histories to view the pages and websites they’ve visited. They can also install apps that monitor smartphone or computer activity behind the scenes so that parents can check on their kids’ internet and social media usage secretly.

Monitoring apps only go so far – what kids need most is to learn about online safety, so they know what dangers to look out for. If your kids can recognize the red flags, they can avoid many of the problems you’d need to be secretly monitoring them for, such as chatting with strangers and sharing selfies or personal information about themselves.

Watch for a false sense of security

You may feel safe navigating from your social media app, but don’t let your guard down. It may be unsettling to think about, but see your activities and what you post online as potentially viewed by strangers who don’t have your best interests at heart. Make sure your privacy settings are up to date, work with your kids on knowing about social media risks and dangers, and enjoy your social media time – with caution always in mind.


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