Top Tips For Staying Safe On Social Media

There are approximately 2.08 billion active social media accounts on the net as of 2015, and the popularity of social media is expected to continue to increase over the next year or so. While social media helps us connect with one another, it also creates a real risk to our personal and financial privacy. There are certain inherent risks with any online service, but social media can easily amplify them.

Unfortunately any time there’s a large number of users on a specific site, it tends to be targeted by hackers in an attempt to obtain personal information or just cause a little distress. Thankfully, there are ways to curb the dangers of using these services without totally unplugging.

Here are a few ways you can avoid some of the security risks that are associated with the use of social media websites.

Oversharing

When updating their status on social media, there’s a bit of a tendency for users to overshare some of their personal details unintentionally. It’s easy to forget that people we might not know personally could have access to our page, and some of them might even have malicious intentions for being a part of your friends list or followers to begin with.

Let’s not forget that employers sometimes scout out the social media pages of their employees and potential hires, so by oversharing, you might actually be losing out on career opportunities. It’s best to keep some information to yourself, and when you post, be sure that the location settings are turned off on your device. Many times this occurs from your smartphone, so just check your settings to disable it. Also, check to see who can view your post (if it’s public or only shared with friends, etc.) before submitting it.

If you have location settings turned on, websites can sometimes even pinpoint you down to the exact address of where you’re posting from and include it in the messages you send. As you can imagine, this can pose a rather significant security risk.

Besides turning these sorts of things off, you should also avoid posting about where you are at the time. Wait until after you return home to post photos or information about where you went that day.

You should also avoid posting any crucial bits of personal information such as your address, social security number, banking information or anything else that can be used to commit identity theft, access your accounts or locate you and your family.

Passwords

As you may already know, your passwords actually play a huge role in keeping your social media accounts and personal information protected online. To make sure your password is as secure as it can get, check to ensure that it includes numbers, uppercase and lowercase letters, and is at least eight characters long. Some websites will allow you to use symbols as well, which can add an extra layer of security to your password.

Never use common words, especially one on its own, or any personal information as your password, and avoid re-using the same one for multiple accounts.

Friend Requests

If Facebook is your favorite social media site, it’s likely that you’ve already encountered a friend request from someone you don’t personally know. Many will accept any and every friend request that comes their way because they figure it’s harmless. However, by allowing people you aren’t familiar with on your page, you’re also allowing them into your personal information.

Some of these people might even be what’s known as a “catfish,” meaning that they are using a false identity in order to scam you into sending them money or just gain attention. They might also have intentions of posting malicious hyperlinks on your page in order to infect your device with malware.

Although having a larger friends list might seem appealing, be wary of whom you add to your page.

Malware and Scams

It wouldn’t be the internet without some malware and scams floating around, now would it? Well just as these sorts of things can be encountered on some of the less notable websites, they can also show up on popular social media sites.

Wherever people have a high chance of encountering them, they’re sure to be there, so of course, hackers and other nefarious folk will be attempting to spread malware and entice you into their scams on pages that are heavily populated. Social media is actually a great place for these types of people to flock, as the social nature of the sites encourage sharing hyperlinks and other information.

Because it’s common for hyperlinks to be posted on social media, it’s not always obvious when the link is actually leading you to a malicious website instead of a legitimate one. Some of the things you should look out for are posts that claim you can receive a free gift card or any others that appear to be clickbait. Phrases like “I got this for free,” “You’re a winner,” “Wow, look at this” and any similar ones that heavily encourage and/or persuade you to click on the link included are best to be avoided.

These are commonly scams and could even infect your device with malware or be used to obtain your personal information. For example, you’re likely to enter your address and email if you believe you can receive a free gift card.

Software

Speaking of malware, I hope you have an anti-virus program installed. If you don’t, you’re potentially putting your information and device at risk every time you access the internet. Malware can be hidden in emails or messages that appear to be sent by someone on your contacts list and on social media, you might even click on a link posted by someone you know, only to find that your device has now been infected with a virus.

Others whose devices aren’t secure can and do get hacked, so even if you’re receiving messages on social media from someone you know, it could be a hacker on the other end instead of your friend or family member. To prevent picking up malware, download an anti-virus program. You can find great ones for free and even use them on all of your devices (computer, smartphone and tablet).

Another program that can keep you safe on social media is a Virtual Private Network (VPN). It hides your location and encrypts your connection, making it much harder for hackers to access your computer or find where you’re located. In basic terms, a VPN is a remote server, and when you connect to it, your internet traffic is routed through it, helping you to remain safe and anonymous online.

If you’re a fan of Facebook in particular, it might be helpful to know that there’s actually a VPN that’s recommended for it. According to SecureThoughts.com, the best VPN for Facebook is ExpressVPN. This VPN will also work on every website too, so even when you’re on other social media sites like Twitter or Instagram, you’ll remain protected.

Social Media

Though social media comes along with its own set of risks, there’s no need to be dissuaded from using it. If you put some of the aforementioned tips to use and know what to look out for, you’re sure to be much safer than the average user is online.

What do you do, if anything, to protect yourself on social media sites? Share with us in the comment section below.

Matthew Marley

Matthew Marley is a Social Media & Search Specialist from Glasgow Scotland with a passion for the web and emerging technologies.

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