The original intent of social media was to bring people together. We share our lives with our far-away loved ones and friends and make new friends across time zones and cultural boundaries.
Sound good? If this was the only outcome of millions of humans sharing cat videos and baby photos, the world would be a sweeter place. However, with this intent came something more unfriendly—to put it mildly.
Hackers, marketing companies, and more besides, take and share your informational data for a variety of reasons. Extreme examples like Cambridge Analytica using your likes and dislikes to influence an election should be enough to give the everyday user a pause for thought.
Let’s take a look at the kinds of security issues that come from social media, and how you can keep yourself and your data safe in a time when everyone is online all the time.
How Is Social Media a Security Risk?
These days, almost everyone with an internet connection or mobile device has at least one social media account. Their methods of use may differ from reading the news to sharing their lives, to updating their professional resume. Regardless of usage, social media is a part of the fabric of modern-day life.
What used to the content of private conversations is more often than not shared in a public space such as Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Multitudes of strangers have access to your opinions, comments, political leanings, and family concerns.
Bearing this in mind, it’s important to learn how to protect one’s data and privacy while feeling free enough to learn and share on these platforms.
With privacy and security a top priority, enabling best practices for safely using social media will give you peace of mind.
Start with a Strong Password
Password managers are your best friend when it comes to social media protection. A password manager assists in creating random strings of characters that are unique, hard to crack, and also hard to remember. Bearing that in mind, the manager stores these in a safe account that is easily accessible.
Trusted password manager apps are everywhere, but the top ones include:
While you may have numerous accounts that require passwords, these apps keep them all in one place, while diversifying the actual passwords themselves. It is recommended to never use the same password for more than one account. Tools such as Chrome Password Manager will generate unique strings of characters for you
Security Concerns on Facebook
Facebook is the behemoth of all social media.
With an estimated two billion users daily, it can be impossible to avoid. Even if you’ve decided to limit your use of the platform, it can be very difficult to disengage from it entirely. Most users of social media assume others have a presence on Facebook. Think about all the ways in which family, friends, and colleagues use it. Even cultural and entertainment institutions rely on Facebook to announce important events.
Facebook has become our default, despite its faults and shifting demographics, everyone seems to be on it.
Now consider all the problems that arise from this fact. Exposes in the media and documentary films have uncovered widespread hacking and abuse of personal information. Cambridge Analytica harvested personal data on over 50 million Facebook users and used it to alter the course of a democratic election. There’s a saying that ‘If you’re not paying for the product, you ARE the product.’
We are still a long way away from any solid implementation of global data rights as human rights law. Therefore, it is up to you, the user, to know how to protect yourself and your digital identity.
Easy Security for your Facebook account:
- Create a complex Password & store in a Password Manager.
- If you’re checking your Facebook account from any device other than your home computer or personal cell phone, do not check ‘Keep Me Logged In’.
- Set up 2FA: Two-Factor Authentication ensures only you can log into your account. This can be enabled inside the ‘Settings’ menu under ‘Setup’.
- Only accept friend requests from people you already know in the real world, or are within two degrees of separation from your personal network.
- Report suspicious activity to Facebook.
- Block accounts that harass or attack you on comment threads.
Next up, Twitter!
Twitter has revolutionized the way we absorb news and media.
With its short bursts of journalism, to its hilarious use of puns and wit, to its unfortunate abuses of fringe ideology and ignorance, this social media platform has changed the game when it comes to information.
You no longer need to scour an entire news blog to follow a story that means a lot to you. Simply locate the journalist on Twitter and follow her, or find the relevant hashtag for the latest updates.
Twitter is also great for self-promotion of your small business, building a network of trusted colleagues, and promoting brands and business practices relevant to your interests.
With the great ability to communicate also comes great risks.
Here are some valuable ways to protect your identity, location and data on Twitter:
- As with Facebook, begin by creating a complex Password & store in a Password Manager.
- 2FA is your best friend from now on! Two Factor Authentication should be used wherever and whenever it is offered on a social media platform
- Go into ‘Settings & Privacy’ and choose ‘Protect my tweets’ for added privacy. This way, only your approved followers can see what you choose to share and say on Twitter.
- Monitor all third-party apps that have access to your Twitter account. Some of these allow data access, therefore it is wise to limit any third-party capabilities.
- Don’t accept or click Direct Messages from unknown accounts. They may be phishing attacks or viruses.
- Don’t forget to log out of any devices that are not your home computer or personal cell phone!
Onward to LinkedIn
Chances are if you’ve ever searched for a job in the last ten years or more, you’ve got a LinkedIn profile.
It’s the world standard for professional networking. This also means it hosts a huge amount of personal data from your location to your professional network and education background. That can be quite tempting for a hacker, identity thief, or third party marketer.
LinkedIn is a haven for phishing attacks, scam artists promising ‘dream jobs’, and the usual hackers that abound all over the internet. With your professional life on the line, you can’t afford not to put privacy practices into place on this platform that is the global standard for resume hosting.
What you can do on LinkedIn:
- Starting with the password, begin by creating a complex Password & store in a Password Manager.
- Think carefully about what data you wish to share on LinkedIn. Only post the most essential professional details about yourself. If you already have a resume or CV up, go over it and remove anything that seems like oversharing.
- Check what third-party apps are authorized to connect your LinkedIn. Sometimes these are outside job boards or old application processes. Delete any that are not in use.
- Be wary of direct messages from unknown recruiters or countries where you’ve never done business. Practice internet savvy and don’t trust every message that comes into your inbox!
- Keep track of where you apply for jobs and how you’ve shared your LinkedIn profile.
Picture Perfect Privacy: Instagram
Who doesn’t love pretty pictures?
Instagram’s popularity has soared in recent years. What used to be a niche photo-sharing site, has beaten the old standard Flickr and risen to the top in popularity. It’s platform encourages the exploration of beautiful landscapes, fabulous parties, and gorgeous fashions. It also allows for story-sharing, hashtag following, linking to other profiles, and conversation threads.
The good thing about Instagram is that you can make your profile completely private from prying eyes. This doesn’t stop your handle from being linked, however, if the average user, or bot, who is not in your curated followers list has no ability to see your photos. For a platform with more than 1 billion active users, privacy is a concern.
How to make sure no one is accessing your IG account:
- As with all other social media platforms, set your password with a unique string of numbers and characters.
- Enable 2FA (two-factor authentication).
- Consider changing your passwords every few months as an extra precaution against fraud. Do NOT use the password twice.
- Monitor any third-party apps you may have already approved, and disable any that are not in use.
- Do not geo-tag your photos. Disable geotagging that allows your location to be shown when you post a photograph.
- Do not hashtag your location unless absolutely necessary. For example, if you’re posting a photo of a hotel where you stayed a few months ago, that may not be leaking sensitive information. But if you’re currently on vacation and away from your home—which is now empty—you may want to re-think posting that Instagram photo.
Staying Safe Online
Following these basic instructions for security and privacy is good practice for making them the normal way you go about using social media.
As you can see, most of them employ common sense and good password implementation. Familiarize yourself with the unique differences of each social media platform your information is on, and make the adjustments necessary for a safe user experience.
In the latest documentary, The Great Hack, the protagonist Wheatland called for Facebook to be regulated as a utility and said: “every company is a data company today, and how that data is ethically managed needs to spread through all companies.”
The reality of strong regulations is a long way off. As social media dominates our intellectual and emotional landscape, we have to be vigilant to protect ourselves whilst still be able to enjoy sharing our lives with, and learning from, others across the world.