In 2022 you’d be hard-pressed to find a member of the public who doesn’t have an active account with at least one social-media platform.
Sites like Facebook and Twitter have revolutionized how we communicate with the rest of the world, but while the impact social media and context targeting have had on greater society is undeniably huge, it comes with some very clear drawbacks.
We could talk for hours about the larger socio-political issues that social media has a hand in, but what about the more immediate dangers closer to home? What about the glaring risks to our personal privacy?
In the attempt to connect people internationally, social media devs have inadvertently put some very dangerous tools in the hands of hackers, stalkers and a myriad of other cyber criminals.
In the interest of preventing your information from being accessed by these types of people, we’ve compiled a list of 5 tips and best practices to help you insure you’re using social media safely and securely.
When you create a Snapchat profile, your location is registered on Snap Maps, and everyone you’re friends with can see where you are on a map at all times.
This feature often isn’t enabled by default, but with constant updates to the app, people can often find the feature active without having given permission, and some users may not even realize it’s turned on.
It’s wonderful to live in a world where this kind of global connection is possible, but it’s a little scary that it’s so easy to track people, especially as 115 million of Snapchats audience are only aged between 13 and 17.
You don’t need me to tell you how dangerous this is. It’s time to normalize getting to know a platform's privacy settings and making sure you have the right things turned on, and the risky things turned off.
A lot of this depends on personal preference and what you want people to see. If you’re an internet-famous influencer, or part of a referral program, then you’ll be sharing a lot of your life and opinions online, but even then boundaries should be established to separate your personal life from your digital one.
Be selective about who can view your profile. Do you really want a stranger seeing where you work? Consider re-working your profile to make it less revealing to anyone other than close friends.
Your ISP (Internet Service Provider) isn’t always on your side, often offering your data to third parties and putting you at risk of being hacked, especially while using Wi-Fi. When you download a VPN, you radically reduce this risk, as your data will be encrypted.
On top of this, VPNs keep your location a secret online and use two-factor authentication to double check everyone who attempts to log in. With the added bonus of allowing you to stream shows and movies from other countries, there’s really no reason not to have one installed especially as most are reasonably priced.
Many VPN providers make setting up easy and streamlined, so a complicated installation process can’t be used as an excuse to leave your social media vulnerable.
If you’ve ever made a login for an online profile, and I’m willing to bet that you have, then you’ll be familiar with the hoops that security systems make you jump through to guarantee you have a strong password.
‘Must be over 8 letters long’… ‘must include at least one number and several capital letters’… ‘must have a variety of symbols and characters’, etc. We’ve all seen the drill, and though your password will be stronger the more randomly it’s put together, random letters and numbers don’t exactly lend themselves to memory retention.
Rather than writing your passwords down somewhere and risking them being found by someone, help keep them in mind by giving yourself memory triggers. Just because a password seems meaningless to a potential hacker, doesn’t mean it has to be meaningless to you.
Try creating your passwords to a tune or rhythm, and each time you type them out, play the song you’ve attached to the symbols back in your head. Why do you think that cleaning products and breakfast cereals are advertised through jingles? Because catchy songs are extremely memorable.
You’d be amazed at the length of the passwords you can keep in your brain simply by remembering them as songs. They probably won’t win any Grammys, but they’ll keep you from constantly resetting passwords, or worse, writing them on your hand.
We’ve all had that moment where a friend adds you on Facebook, only, you’re sure that you already added them months ago. A quick look on their profile soon reveals an imposter.
On occasion, these imposter profiles may appear so fake as to seem goofy. But every once in a while one slips past the radar, and when this happens they can do a lot of damage - not only to people who get lured in by fake links, but also to the original profile owner, as victims of identity theft lose up to $100 million a year.
You can find these fake links on many online platforms, either on websites offering free content (often in the form of click-bait ad banners) or through email. Linking to a product is a strategy often used in affiliate email marketing, and so cyber-criminals can take advantage of this known trend to lure you into a trap.
But it’s the fake messages from “friends” on social media that are the most insidious, as they rely on your personal trust of your friends to scam you.
Always make sure to verify new friend requests. If you don’t know someone, or think they may have already added you, check their profile. Most fake profiles will have minimal activity on their feed and were likely created on the same day they added you. This is a red flag to watch out for.
If you receive any out-of-character instagram messages from a friend asking you to click on a link, without any prior context, do not click on it as this could give your computer or phone a virus. Instead, message the real profile of this friend and inform them that they may have been hacked.
Social media development teams are constantly updating their software security to prevent these kinds of breaches in user privacy, but it’s difficult to maintain a consistent level of safety across such a broad user base.
This is why it’s so important for app testers to thoroughly test their social platforms, and one of the definite benefits of agile is that this can be done from one place and at a quick pace.
While this last part essentially sums up all of our tips so far, it’s important to note that you yourself are just as much a risk to your online safety as other external factors like phishing and malware.
As the ripple effect of a hacking can affect not only you, but also those around you, you have a responsibility to ensure you’re keeping on top of your online security in general, not just on social media.
It’s definitely easier if you’re only running a personal social media account for yourself, but if you’re in charge of a marketing program, for example, your affiliates will be representing your brands through various social media platforms. So it’s important you’re using the right software to manage them, for their safety.
The necessity for caution is doubled if you’re an employee overseeing a social media account for a company. If you’re browsing B2B software pages on Facebook in the hope of updating your company’s phone systems, you need to take note of what a real ad campaign looks like, and of the deals that are too good to be true.
There is a lot of marketing done on social media, and often the campaigns which are set up to scam you are sloppily put together. It helps to know how to promote affiliate marketing links, just so you’re aware of how real companies do it, what the normal process for online marketing is, and which things stand out as red flags.
You’d also be surprised by just how many data breaches are caused just by leaving devices unlocked and lying around. And as corporate data breaches are worth $117 million a year, that’s not something you want to be a part of.
There’s a lot of emphasis put on the importance of creating passwords, encrypting data and safe web browsing. However, if you don’t lock your devices in the first place, you’re open to, at best, careless mismanagement of your data by a friend or colleague, and, at worst, a malicious invasion of your privacy by a criminal opportunist.
You don’t want to be the employee who caused a company-wide lockdown because you left your phone unlocked on your desk while you went to the bathroom. That’s just embarrassing.
Social media is still one of the best ways to keep in touch with friends, advertise a business or simply pass the time.
From hosting online parties and events to implementing video marketing, social media really is an amazing service, despite the nefarious things that some unsavory types would use it for if given the chance.
Using these tips and best practices, you’ll be able to enjoy the immense benefits that social media has to offer, without wringing your hands over a possible data breach or malware attack.
So, have fun, be safe, and don’t forget to lock your phone.
Sam O’Brien is the Chief Marketing Officer for Affise—a Global SaaS Partner Marketing Solution. He is a growth marketing expert with a product management, affiliate marketing platforms, and design background. Sam has a passion for innovation, growth, and marketing technology. Here is his LinkedIn