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In a world where platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp, LinkedIn and Facebook have become part of everyday life, you’re probably asking, “How can I stay safe on social media?”

If you’re reading this, you likely belong to one of these three groups:

  1. You don’t use any form of social media at all (remarkable if so!).
  2. You actively use social media but don’t really care about privacy or security. 
  3. You actively use social media and you’re concerned about both of these things.

According to Hootsuite, “3.48 billion people now use social media or 45% of the total world population are using social networks.” That’s a lot of people!

Based on those statistics, it is very likely that most people fall into the third category.


What risks should you be concerned about on social media?

Social media might seem like an innocent place to some. However, it is actually easy to fall victim to crooks masquerading as trusted contacts or malicious URLs designed to steal personal information on any of the platforms. The very nature of social media is that it is social and as a result, people are likely to lower their guard when engaging with ‘friends’ and followers.

There is also the matter of the tech companies using our personal data in ways that many might consider intrusive. While Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg tries to convince the world about their recent ‘privacy first’ philosophy, the truth is that in the world of social networking, our personal data is the commodity being traded in exchange for our ‘free’ use of these platforms.

So, although we’re always going to complain about the overreach of social media, statistics show that we’re not exactly going to give up on it any time soon.


How can you protect yourself on social media?

Here are three useful tips:

1. Enforce your privacy

It seems ironic to be concerned about privacy while having an active presence on social media, a technology aimed at sharing at much information. 

One way to stay safe on social media is to make your accounts private and be done with it. However, this defeats the intention of being ‘social’ on social media. Besides, making accounts private isn’t necessarily a foolproof way to protect your privacy.

Be pragmatic and start with these tips:

Do not unnecessarily expose personal information on social media which could be used to identify your current location or which could expose you to identity theft or financial crime. Before you publish anything, get into the habit of double-checking your posts – including text, images, audio and video – to make sure you’re not revealing too much personal information.

Check your privacy settings. If being on social media is important to you, then spending a few minutes reviewing and changing your privacy settings should be a regular habit. Many social media platforms have implemented tighter privacy controls and you should implement them. You’ll find platform-specific guidance from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, LinkedIn and WhatsApp here.

Teach your kids how to stay safe on social media. Let’s face it, they’ll get on social media eventually. So why not teach them how to be safe online. While there are many resources available, this excellent game/teaching aid by the United States Federal Bureau of Information (FBI) designed for kids of different age groups looks really cool. Disclaimer: We have no affiliation with the Feds!


2. Take your passwords seriously

Passwords aren’t going away anytime soon. So while they’re still around, here are some sensible password policies to follow to protect your social media accounts.

Choose a strong password. Do not choose a password that can easily be guessed. When creating passwords, it is generally recommended to use three or four random words with a mix of numbers and special characters. Here’s some more useful guidance on how to create stronger passwords. 

Do not use the same password you use on social media for other websites. If you do and your social media accounts become compromised, you’re at risk of having other aspects of your digital life exposed.

Use multi-factor authentication if it is available. Using passwords alone isn’t the most reliable way to protect your social media accounts. Multi-factor authentication is when you use more than one way to prove your identity before logging in. This might include sending an SMS to your mobile phone or using a third-party app to generate random codes. Each social media platform has guidance on how to do this – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Whatsapp, LinkedIn and Snapchat.

Set a reminder on your phone calendar to change your password regularly. Every three months is reasonable. Rather than seeing this as a burden, think of it as a way to train your mind to create better passwords.


3. When in doubt, don’t engage with it

One of the biggest attractions of social media – interacting with other people – is also its biggest drawback. You may have taken the necessary steps to protect yourself on social media but you can’t always trust everyone else to do the same.

Someone you follow (and whose account perhaps you implicitly trust) may send you a message that looks strange given your previous interaction. If warning bells ring, don’t ignore. 

This means that you DO NOT click on links in suspicious social media posts or in unsolicited direct messages from others.

If you suspect that a social media account you engage with has been compromised, immediately inform the owner through an alternative channel e.g., phone call or email.

Do not promote (e.g., sharing, liking and retweeting) social media content that may lure others to fall victim to fake news, fake giveaways, scams or malware.

Some social media accounts are set up intentionally to lure victims using phishing techniques. If you don’t know the person or account requesting to ‘friend or follow’ you or sending you a private message, you might want to ignore or delete the request. Do not compromise your online safety for the sake of increasing your follower numbers.


Other useful tips for your social media security and privacy checklist

This advice is not exhaustive and there will always be something new to include. However, in addition to the above, consider doing the following as well.

Ensure that you have the latest software version of whatever social media platforms you use. This reduces the chance of malware exploiting bugs in older versions.

Having updated antivirus software installed on your laptop is always a great idea.

When downloading apps (from Google Play or Apple Store), exercise some caution. App developers aren’t always transparent with their intentions and there is a risk you might be agreeing to terms and conditions that could breach your privacy.  Read app reviews first (although reviews can often be faked). When downloading apps, take note of permissions you give them on your devices.

Many social media platforms rely on users of the platforms to be their ‘first responders’ for dealing with suspected misuse, online abuse, cyberbullying or fake news. You don’t need to be a hero but it helps the greater good if we all flag or report suspicious activity and accounts on social media when we come across them.

So while social media isn’t going away anytime soon, we can all do more to protect ourselves while using it.