Social media became a part of everyday life several years ago, and its impact only continues to grow. Platforms like Instagram and Snapchat provide users with a fun way to share bits about their lives. There’s TikTok, which has become an Internet sensation with the ability to create and share short videos. Twitter and Facebook, cornerstones of social media, are still relevant and allow users to see what their friends are up to and get the latest news in an easy-to-read format. All of these sites are fun to be a part of—unless you’re putting your safety at risk. Whatever social media platforms you’re on, follow these online safety tips to keep yourself and your privacy protected.
General Social Media Safety
For social media users of all ages, there are a couple “rules” to keep in mind to keep yourself safe online.
- Don’t post anything that you wouldn’t want someone else to see. You can delete content, but it's never gone from the Internet entirely
- Don’t share personal or sensitive information, especially with strangers
- Don’t get into arguments with others online; it isn’t worth it, and will only cause you undue stress and potential danger
In general, it’s advised to change your social media passwords at least once a year so that you don’t fall victim to hackers. Choose strong passwords without any identifying information for the best and most secure results.
Authenticity is hard to find on social media, even from the best-intentioned users. Remember that a photo posted online could be edited or altered to appear different than reality. This makes it easy for many companies to target potential audiences with deceptive before-and-after photos. Weight loss pills or miracle skin-clearing serums may work, but they likely don’t get the results that advertising photos claim. Use caution when shopping from brands that rely on brand-produced images as their sole form of marketing; it could just be deceptive advertising, but it could also be a scam. Before buying a product from social media, make sure to research it and find reviews from real users if possible.
Scammers will often try to reach victims through direct messages on social media, too. I have personally gotten several messages from people I was friends with on Instagram inviting me to “check out a cool project” that they’ve been working on; because I didn’t know the person that well, I was suspicious. The links were malicious and sent by hackers to try and gain control of users’ devices and accounts. Try to exercise caution when you receive links through direct messages on social media; they may be scams.
Safety on Specific Platforms
Instagram and Facebook
Instagram and Facebook are similar in format—they’re actually both owned by Facebook. Though there are differences between the platforms, users share similar content on both. Scams, like the ones mentioned above, are a big issue on both Instagram and Facebook through direct messages. People you follow or are friends with may send you a message that seems safe, but actually wasn’t sent by them at all.
Screen your DMs before you open them; look for links sent by people you don’t normally talk to or images that the user wants you to click on. These can open you up to security threats and damage to your tech. Remember, it’s better to be safe than sorry, so you can always let a message sit for a few days and try to contact the person through another platform instead. The user likely knows that their account has been hacked. But they probably can’t regain control to let others know not to open messages sent on their behalf.
Snapchat’s autodeletion feature—which deletes stories after 24 hours and messages after the person opens it—is the platform’s most unique feature. It has made the social media platform popular, as people believe that something they post to Snapchat won’t go anywhere. However, this is a false—and dangerous—assumption. Other users can screenshot your content and, although you’ll be notified, there’s little you can do about it. This is perhaps the biggest online safety threat on Snapchat.
Be aware that this could happen to you. Don’t post pictures that you wouldn’t be comfortable with the world seeing. The picture could be shared publicly even if you intend for it to only be seen by one person.
Twitter heavily promotes an ‘act first, think later’ culture. Users are encouraged to tweet spur-of-the-moment thoughts and opinions, which contributes to the app’s more casual atmosphere, but it also puts users at a higher risk for sharing something that they shouldn’t.
Before posting on Twitter, consider whether the content you’re about to share will cause harm, whether it be to yourself or to others. Don’t share any personal information that could risk your safety if it falls into the wrong hands. This includes your address, current location, passwords, or other account information. You can turn off your location in Twitter’s settings to keep your location more private.
Several months ago, TikTok came under fire for security concerns. This app has become one of the most-used social media apps in only a short time, with users finding quick videos on lifestyle, comedy, fashion, news, and more. But because the app was created in China, many officials raised valid concerns of the app data mining and stealing information from users.
However, the risk of data mining and security breaches on TikTok turns out to be no higher than any other social media app. Although there may be political issues with who’s controlling the app, the risk to user safety isn’t particularly high.
Because TikTok is a video sharing app, it asks for permission to access the microphone, camera, and camera roll. As always, consider if this is worth it before proceeding to grant permission and post.
Have fun with social media! Don’t feel pressured to post; focus on staying safe and enjoying the connections.