Regrettably, in modern society there appear to be numerous people whose only aim is to abuse and take advantage of the innocent, unsuspecting, online user. This is across the whole spectrum of online activity no matter where and when. How to remain safe in such circumstances is an issue for many. This article will specifically look at social media though many of the points raised will apply equally to all online activity. There are several areas where a user may mitigate this problem of which the following are some.
The majority of online accounts enable users to choose their security and privacy settings. These include who may see/view what is shared. These options are located under the ‘settings’ tabs in each system. Users should take time to review these and set them to coincide with their overall aim and purpose, bearing in mind that anything set to ‘Public’ will be visible to the whole world. The settings normally include two or three options e.g. in Facebook the choices are: Public; Friends; Limited Friends; Only the User.
The following are common sense but it helps to be reminded from time to time.
Name: Users must decide the name they wish to be known by e.g. many authors utilise a nom de plume (pen name) for a variety of different reasons. If the purpose of the account is to promote that author identity then they should be selecting that name and not their real one. Care should be taken here because some sites insist users only enter their actual name.
Address/Location: Unless crucial to the aim and purpose (e.g. if the account is designed for a niche geographically sensitive group) it is recommended users avoid entering a full postal address/location, which depending upon the privacy/security settings previously set, could be generally visible.
This should also be avoided in posts. For example, some while ago a post was seen where a single lady actually mentioned the road name and city within which she lives. In fairness it was because they were seeking help in locating a lost pet nevertheless, it was dangerous.
Note: Just a word about newsletters, which some authors and businesses utilise: By Law these must display a postal address that is capable of receiving physical mail. There are alternatives but come at a cost. Previous article Newsletters contains further information.
Date of Birth: Most systems allow for users to choose whether these are visible in entirety, not at all, or limited e.g. hiding the year. This may not appear to be of any real concern but it can have knock-on impact as outlined under ‘Identity Theft’ below.
Occupation: May seem odd to mention this here but some occupations, by default, identify where the person is located. It is up to the user to decide how much to reveal.
Contact Information: E-mail address(s); Telephone number(s); etc. (Excluding those which have to be provided as part of the account setup process). Again these do not always have to be public but if they are anyone may view and use them. For those who wish to ensure they are contactable through e-mail, and who have a website/blog, it is suggested they enter the site ‘contact’ link instead of the actual e-mail address. They may then vet the sender and decide whether to respond via the e-mail address to any inquiry etc. Alternatively they may request people contact them using the private message facilities some sites provide.
Realtime Sharing: In the spirit of friendship and the inbuilt emotion of wanting to be liked, many people share, in realtime, what they are doing or about to do. For example, some will tell when they are, or will be, on holiday; at a family event (wedding; christening; birthday); attending a charitable walk; etc. Consequently, everyone who can see the post (a public setting means everyone) will know. It is best if this sort of information is shared after the event.
Photographs: Social Media is intended to be just that: ‘social’. Of course, family and friends like to share what they are doing with each other and will often post photographs however, they should be circumspect about what is included in the photograph. Photographs that include the following should be avoided:
- Property front; number; street name.
- Location signage or names.
- Realtime holiday snaps.
- Bank/Credit Cards e.g. laying on a table, chair, etc. (online images are capable of being enlarged).
- Dates of Birth e.g. in birthday celebration banners, on cakes, etc.
- Cars with registration numbers.
- Family Names, especially if these are used in whole or part for passwords.
This list is obviously not exhaustive nevertheless, it provides ideas of what to avoid.
Friend Requests/Following: It is a sad reflection on modern society to have to mention this but it is a reality everyone has to live with. People may no longer be taken on face-value. Newsreel and press reports frequently identify the fact there are many lascivious men (to put it as kindly as possible) and ladies of an immoral nature in the world today.
Users should investigate, as much as they can, anyone asking to be accepted as a social media ‘friend’ or requesting a user to follow them. It should be noted this even applies to those who do not use an actual photograph of themselves with their profile. For example, it is known some women who have a logo or innocent photo of a flower or something similar as their profile image receive some very odd requests. It is disappointing but users must always be on guard.
Identity Theft and hacking: Though the press appears to mention this less frequently over recent times, identity theft remains a reality and is a serious issue for those who suffer. Here are some elements identity thieves and hackers use to gain access to a person’s accounts:
- Full Name;
- Date of Birth;
- Bank/Credit Card Numbers;
- Bank Names;
- Password Hints (e.g. dates of birth; family names; favourite holiday destinations; etc.);
Caveat: The writer is not a legal or finance expert. The above is simply taken from what has been read or heard about those who have suffered.
As already said, all of the above boils down to common sense. Nonetheless, there are regular instances of social media users ignoring the fundamentals of basic security. It is hoped what is shared above will help readers stay safe. It is always a disappointment to see people abused and suffering due to a moment of carelessness.
Please use the comments facility to add anything else you consider will assist your fellow users to remain safe when on social media or using online services.