An increasing percentage of the American population connects with friends, loved ones, and even strangers through social media. Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok (to name just a few) can have the positive effect of bringing people together, empowering them to stay in touch, share information, build connections, and interact across vast distances.
Unfortunately, social media also comes with significant dangers for vulnerable and unwary users. The personal injury attorneys at The Levin Firm tips to keep yourself and your family safe while using social media.
1. Use separate, strong passwords for social media accounts and other accounts, especially financial or work-based accounts.
Avoid using the same password for your social media account and any financial account, such as a bank password or any payments platform (such as Venmo or PayPal). If you use multiple social media platforms, then you may even want to use a different password for each one, even if you link one to another. Your password serves as an important line of defense against hackers and others who may want to steal your private information.
A strong password:
- Uses both letters, numbers, and special characters when possible;
- Does not use a word straight from the dictionary, a common string of letters or numbers (such as “ABCDE” or “12345”), or any variant on the word “password” (such as “p@ssw0rd”);
- Does not use words, names, or number combinations easily associated with you, such as birthdates, children’s names, or your favorite sports team.
We strongly suggest that, if possible, you use a password manager to help generate longer, stronger passwords and to protect your private information. Many web browsers come with built-in password managers that can create and store passwords for your accounts.
Finally, always enable “two factor identification” (or “2FA”) on accounts you use often. 2FA typically links to your phone and sends you a text message code to enter before you can sign on to your account from a new device or new location.
2. Parents, monitor teen social media use carefully.
Teenagers, in particular, face extreme vulnerabilities when they use social media regularly. Increasing numbers of individuals, especially children and teens, experience cyberbullying alongside or instead of traditional forms of bullying. Not only that, teens may have a higher likelihood of sharing private information, including contact information that could make it easier for a predator to hunt them down.
If you have children or teens who use social media, carefully monitor their accounts.
- Watch for any signs of bullying. If you notice your child getting bullied online, report it to your child’s school if appropriate. Many schools have policies in place that allow them to discipline students who engage in bullying online, even after school hours. Also, remove or limit your child’s access to social media following cyberbullying to help protect your child from depression and anxiety. Preventing your child from bullying another child is just as important as monitoring against your child getting physically bullied. Take appropriate actions to stop bullying in its tracks, including removing your child’s access to social media if necessary.
- Sexting in any capacity. Sexual messages in any capacity, including sending pictures, should receive immediate attention. Take action immediately if an adult solicits a minor in a sexual manner. In some cases, you may have grounds for legal action against that individual. In others, you may need to carefully monitor your child’s ongoing exposure to social media.
- Watch for teens sharing private or personal information. Many teens think nothing of sharing personal information with someone they just met over the internet. Teens often have misplaced confidence in the good intentions of others on the internet, and may struggle to distinguish between real and fake social media accounts with whom they communicate. Caution your child never to broadcast contact information over social media and never to share information about their whereabouts with a stranger.
3. Check your privacy settings carefully.
Take a look at the privacy settings on each of your social media profiles. Those privacy settings control who can see your content. Your social media profile might default to public visibility, making everything you share online visible to anyone.
Most people should set privacy settings on Facebook, Instagram, and other related accounts, intended for personal sharing, that prevent anyone outside their friends lists from seeing content they post directly on their pages. You may even want to control the types of content that people in specific parts of your life can see, which Facebook allows you to control.
If you use social media for business purposes, you may have more open privacy settings that allow greater visibility into the content you post. If you use these open settings, however, you must carefully consider what information you share with your followers.
4. Remember, nothing you share remains private.
If you post it online, people can find it. Many people, especially those growing up in the social media era, have found to their detriment that employers may do searches of their social media history. Content shared by friends and family members may make it off your private page faster than expected. Many people take screenshots of specific content they see online.
Carefully choose what you share on your social media pages. Remember that future employers, family members, or even a potential future spouse could see everything you once posted online. Even if you delete content, it does not automatically disappear forever, and you may discover content you shared in the past popping up in unexpected places at embarrassing (or harmful) moments.
5. Pay attention to the information you choose to share.
Many people, when bored, take the time to fill out surveys and quizzes online. “Learn all about me!” they proclaim. While these quizzes and surveys may seem to offer a harmless diversion, they often serve the malicious ends of data miners and hackers hoping to obtain insight into your life to use in accessing your online accounts.
Think about the type of information asked-for in password recovery questions. Many institutions want to know your mother’s maiden name, or the high school you attended, or the first car you drove. Many surveys and quizzes ask for that same information.
When you fill out this information, then share it with everyone on your friends’ list, you could unwittingly provide that same information to a hacker who will then use to access your bank account, your email account, your social media accounts, or other private information, all without you ever realizing it. Many people have fallen victim to identity theft simply by oversharing on social media.
6. Avoid sharing your location with everyone you know (and many people you don’t).
Many businesses offer the option for customers to share their location or “check in” via social media. Businesses use this feature of social media as an advertising tool: when you share where you went, it serves as a type of endorsement of the business that may encourage your friends and family to become customers, too.
Unfortunately, sharing your location can also give your entire friends or followers list information you may not want to share about your physical location at a particular time.
- Location sharing tells your followers exactly where you are. At a glance, they can see that you went to that bar, or visited that restaurant. Often, they can extrapolate how long you will stay in that location based on the type of location, your usual habits, or even your post. This can make it easy to “accidentally” intercept or run into you—or make you a prime target for abduction or stalking, especially for teens and young women.
- Location sharing tells your followers where you aren’t. Just as important as your current location, sharing your location tells people that you are not at home. This may serve as an invitation for burglars to take advantage of your absence, especially if you often share other information, like large purchases you made or photos of the interior of your home, that help them know what they might gain from breaking-in while you are gone.
- Your vacation photos could let potential thieves know your house is empty. Just like you should not share your immediate location as soon as you arrive somewhere new, think carefully before posting your vacation photos. Sure, you cannot wait to share your amazing family vacation with everyone on your friends and followers lists, especially if you made it out to an incredible destination or if you had memorable moments that you want to look back on later. Before sharing, however, remember that your vacation photos announce that your home sits empty. Waiting until you get home to share those photos can protect you from thieves.
7. Watch out for duplicate friend requests.
You see a friend request pop up on your dashboard. It’s your mother-in-law, who has had the same account for as long as you knew her. Did she really create a new account? You do not want to hurt her feelings, but something about the account makes you uncomfortable—and for good reason.
Keep a close eye on duplicate friend requests. Try to avoid accepting a friend request from a brand new account, especially one that you have not confirmed with that friend or family member in person. Many scammers create duplicate accounts of specific individuals. Once you add them as friends, you may forget that they exist. As long as they stay on your friends list, however, they retain access to your private information and could use that information to harm you later.
8. Manage your online contacts carefully.
Many people, especially teens and young people, add everyone they meet to their social media accounts. They want to connect with new people and get to know them. Many people also find a certain amount of prestige in having a large friends list filled with people they have met, even if they never actually connect with those individuals beyond an occasional “like” or comment.
Adding someone to your friends or contacts list, however, often gives that individual access to everything you post online. If you use your social media accounts primarily for professional purposes, you may not mind who sees your information. On the other hand, if you regularly share more private information, especially photos of yourself and your kids, then you may want to more carefully manage your social connections.
Try some of these steps:
- Do not accept friend requests from people you do not know. Shared content that goes viral can trigger a deluge of friend requests. Likewise, you may occasionally get friend requests from friends of friends or other people who want to join your circle, often for marketing or networking purposes. As a general rule, if you use a social media page for personal reasons, not professional, do not accept those friend requests.
- Confirm that you have the right person. Most of the time, you will not get a random friend request from someone you think you know, only to discover you do not after the fact. Sometimes, however, spam accounts may manage to imitate the right person to get you to accept a friend request, or you might get the wrong person as you look for a contact online. Any time you make a new online contact, make sure you connect with the person off-platform, too, to make sure your new “friend” is who you think it is.
- Clean out your friends list regularly. Over time, people may disappear from your life. Some of them, you want to remain in at least vague contact with, so you keep them on your social media pages. You might not want to remain connected to others, however. Every few months, go through your friends list and remove people you no longer know or want to connect with. You may also want to remove people who share inappropriate content, or who do not appear to have appropriate privacy settings. Do not feel guilty about weeding down your list of friends and followers from time-to-time. You control who you connect with online just as you do in the real world, and you should not maintain connections that make you uncomfortable.