Technology

Play safely with your social media

Some would say life is incomplete without social media. With Facebook boasting 1.35 billion active monthly users as of October 2014, and Twitter’s 2013 estimate of roughly a billion registered users, it certainly seems that everybody is hooked on to one social media site or the other. Some use social media recreationally while others rely on it to achieve professional ends, but regardless who’s using it for what purpose, all users are vulnerable. Aside from the usual spam and malware threats, we now must worry about rogue governments conducting unjustified mass surveillance in order to silence a righteously indignant public, not to mention cyber thugs carrying out ransomware attacks, and the increasing instances of cyber stalking, bullying and bogus accounts being created to defame people. Just as one carries pepper spray or closely guards their wallet while socializing in the real world, social media users must also be proactive about socializing safely while online.

Think before posting

Publicly posting certain types of personal information is a recipe for disaster. If one’s address, and their kid’s school information and their kid’s photos are splashed all over a public profile page, this could make their kid an easy target for abduction, while announcing an upcoming road trip lets potential thieves know that one’s empty house is ripe for a break in. Identity thieves, on the other hand, can have a field day with your publicly posted coordinates, such as residential address, place of employment, contact information, date of birth, etc.

While personal safety is crucial, it isn’t the only thing to break one’s head over. Now users must contend with petty, judgemental and invasive employers spying on them. If one’s hobbies, lifestyle or preferred hang outs somehow clash with an employer’s politics or ideologies, that can be enough to get a worker sacked even if he’s giving a stellar job performance. Job seekers are especially at risk of being discriminated against in this manner, as many employers spend more time looking for absurd reasons not to hire someone while losing sight of the person’s strengths.

Then, of course, relationship or marital problems are likely to ensue if a user shares one too many bachelor party photos or fails to mention that the hot chick he’s posing with is his sister. Needless to say, users need to remember who can see their posts and consider how those posts will affect the people who view them, while also remembering to make the most of their social network’s privacy settings. (Scroll to the end of this article for links to the privacy pages of the most popular social media sites.)

Know the value of a password

By now most folks have probably grasped the logic of keeping their passwords a closely guarded secret, but not everyone is willing to put forth the extra effort to create effective passwords. Too many people use words or numbers that are easy for others in their social circles to guess, like the name of a pet or a kid’s date of birth. The ideal password shouldn’t contain actual words, but should consist of upper and lower case letters in addition to numbers and punctuation. The same password should not be used for multiple accounts, either. Instead, use a unique password for each account. If multiple passwords are too difficult to keep up with, users can install password manager software, such as LastPass, to help keep track of it all.

In addition to a robust password, users can take advantage of two-step authentication when it’s available. Two step authentication requires both the password and an external factor such as an SMS confirmation that is sent to the user’s mobile phone.

Secure your gadgets

Those spending any time at all on the net need some type of security software. Those using social media have an even greater need for security, as social networks merely provide another welcome mat to cyber criminals. There is a lot of software available for free, such as Avast, that is reasonably effective and give users the option to pay for upgrades.

Some of the more sophisticated security software is designed to deal specifically with social media threats. Bitfender Total Security uses filters to contain social network attacks while alerting users to the presence of fraudsters.

Don’t get ripped off

Scam artists aren’t just sending emails anymore, they’re making the most of social media just like everyone else. They trick victims into parting with passwords, bank account details and credit card numbers, while others simply use malware to steal the desired data.

Avoid any silly time pass questionnaires that crop up, as most are there strictly to learnmark something about users’ personal habits, tastes, lifestyles and such- Things which are, quite frankly, none of Mark Zuckerberg’s business. If antisocial elements gain access to that information, it can be used against the person it belongs to. Avoid any promises of free goodies, extra followers or celebrity nonsense.

Trolls, bullies and other undesirables

When one hears of cyber bullies, the first thing that often comes to mind is teenage angst, since this type of antisocial behavior is pretty rampant among adolescents. However, adults are not immune to such attacks. According to a Pew Research Center report, 73% of adult internet users have witnessed another being harassed online, while 40% have been victims of such harassment.

Trolling and cyber bullying can present in the form of obnoxious comments, infantile insults or even brazen threats to one’s personal safety. While well known feminists were recently targeted with rape and murder threats, such attacks are often carried out against whistleblowers as well. For instance, when Mr. Jack Palmer blew the whistle on his employer, Infosys, regarding visa fraud and racist behavior against American workers, he and his family began receiving murder threats via email from colleagues who had benefitted from the company’s fraudulent and discriminatory practices.

Users who encounter this sort of behavior online should record every attack, and be prepared to report it to the appropriate authorities. The Cyberbullying Research Center offers detailed tips for handling such situations.

Click a link below to access the respective social network’s privacy page:

Facebook

Twitter

Google

Instagram

Pinterest

LinkedIn

 

 

 

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Tracy Venkatesh

Tracy Venkatesh

Tracy Venkatesh has spent twenty years working and interacting with a socioeconomically diverse population in both the private and public sectors, and has held positions in multiple verticals including content development, healthcare, customer relations management, defense and law enforcement.

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