How to stay safe online
In 2019, the number of social media users across the globe rose to a whopping 3.48 billion. It’s an impressive community that shapes not only our private social lives but also our cultural awareness, political opinions, and commercial activities. Despite the many advantages that come with social media, it’s no surprise that these platforms often compromise personal privacy and endanger private information. Luckily, you can do things to protect yourself on social media.
- Evaluate Your Social Media Risk
Some safety risks are more prevalent than others, depending on how you use social media. Do you use a mobile device or a computer? Do you spend most of your time publishing and perfecting content or quietly observing posts? The time you spend on each may depend more on your upload and download capabilities than your actual habits, but an internet speed test can help you distinguish between the two. Self-awareness is the first step to protecting yourself on social media. List out your habits, then use that list to decide what your risk factors are.
For example, you might have unsafe social media habits if people can easily find where you live or know when you’re not home. Avoid sharing your location when possible, either explicitly or through a photo’s EXIF metadata, which can contain a photo’s exact time, date, and geographical coordinates. And don’t post about current vacations unless you want burglars to visit while you’re gone—try delaying your online photo dump of vacation fun until you get back.
- Revisit Your Security Settings Regularly
If you’re like most users, you probably use several social media platforms. It can be difficult to keep up on continuously changing privacy policies, but tight security settings are the foundation for social media safety. Set a biannual reminder on your calendar and review security settings on each of your social media accounts. Make everything as private as possible. You can loosen your settings for an individual post if needed, but restricting public access to your account is the best way to protect yourself on social media.
- Don’t Add People You Don’t Know
Though it’s nice to have lots of online friends and followers on your personal account, add only people that you know in real life. Other requests might come from scammers, bots, or catfishers, and it’s better to avoid those risks altogether. Commercial or professional accounts may need to disregard this rule but should still seek additional safety measures.
- Use Smart Passwords
Being hacked on social media is unpleasant and embarrassing. It not only exposes your private information but also endangers the online privacy of your friends and family. Use different passwords for different social sites, and avoid common password mistakes. Though it’s inconvenient to add special characters, numbers, or two-factor authentication, the effort adds an extra layer of protection.
- Shop Securely
- Block or Unfollow When Needed
It’s virtually impossible to browse social media without encountering click-bait quizzes, tacky articles, shocking news, and more. Every few weeks, there’s a new app or site that will add 50 years to your profile picture or match you with your classical art doppelganger. Shady links are one of your greatest safety risks—exposing you to viruses, Trojans, and more—so don’t click on them. You may have already seen Facebook friends get hacked and suddenly start messaging you and asking for money. Don’t hesitate to report hacked accounts when they happen. If you need to unfollow a friend to avoid the fishy content they share, then do it.
It’s also important to defend your emotional safety on social media. Cyberbullying isn’t just a teenage phenomenon, and it’s healthy to remove toxic people from your social feeds. Maintaining appropriate boundaries is a positive social behavior, and if an online friend can’t respect yours, don’t hesitate to block or report them.
You Can Protect Yourself on Social Media
The fight for personal privacy and online safety is never-ending. Though online interactions will never be totally risk-free, a few smart habits can go a long way in boosting your social media safety. Keep your security settings very private and review them regularly. Don’t add strangers, and don’t hesitate to block or unfollow friends with inappropriate conduct or content. Use complex and unique passwords, and most importantly, browse mindfully. Remembering online risks will help you use social media safely, allowing you to enjoy the best parts of it.
Written by: Victoria Schmid
Victoria Schmid enjoys writing about technology for the “everyday” person. She is a specialist in consumer technology and internet culture. She has a background in broadcast journalism.