Posted by Terry Hearn
Social media channels like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have become an integral part of modern life. Without such platforms, movements such as the Arab Spring and #MeToo might not have gained the political traction they needed to become the paradigm-shifting global campaigns they later came to be.
Millions of women share their stories across social media, shedding light on the experiences and problems they face – a part of modern life too eagerly forgotten by societies that see women as marginal. But it’s for this very reason that social media is important, and why people, especially women should know how to protect their accounts and personal data from scammers, hackers and even the companies running the services themselves.
If you’re concerned about your social updates and information winding up in unexpected places, here are some safety considerations to be mindful of when using social media.
1. Avoid Third-Party Sign-Ins
Most apps and accounts require new users to complete a sign-in that can include lots of personal information, from your home address and phone number to your email address. Convenience has made even the best of us lazy, and the prospect of creating a new account just to order one thing from a sale, or to try out a new app, can sometimes feel too much like hard work.
You may have to look into the settings to activate it, but taking these few moments will make your account significantly more secure.
Increasingly, sites and app providers now offer the option of signing in using your Facebook, Google or Twitter account credentials rather than making a new account. As useful and tempting as this may seem, you should think very carefully before doing so. By signing in with your social account, you could be giving away more information than you need to and, should your social media accounts be compromised, the hackers would also have access to any other third-party apps and services you have connected to it.
2. Keep Your Passwords In Check
Having so many different accounts, each requiring unique login credentials, can make it very tricky to remember which passwords are for which accounts. Because of this, many people resort to common passwords like ‘123456’, ‘hello’ or ‘abc123’ so they are easier to remember. While this is handy in the short term, many of these passwords are very common and so are easier for hackers to crack. Even worse, if the same simple password is used on multiple accounts they could all be compromised.
While having unique, complex passwords for each individual social account can be frustrating to setup and difficult to remember, help is at hand. Password managers are simple tools that can generate complex passwords and remember them for you. This means your accounts are secured and you only need to remember one password to access them all. Better still, many new phones and tablets have some form of password manager built-in, and in some cases your accounts can be accessed with just a fingerprint.
3. Two-Factor Authentication
Like best practice around passwords, two-factor authentication should be applied wherever possible to give your social media accounts a security boost. You may have to look into the settings to activate it, but taking these few moments will make your account significantly more secure.
It’s also wise to make sure that location services are disabled. This will allow you to share with confidence to people you trust, and restrict access to trolls
Two-factor authentication simply means that two methods are used to confirm a user’s identity. Typically, the first is the normal account login password, and the second is often a confirmation code that is sent via text or email. Without both elements you would be unable to login, meaning that even if your password was stolen, your account would remain secure. You may also be alerted to the failed login attempt, giving you the opportunity to change your password.
4. Use A VPN
With billions of users sharing thoughts and opinions around the world, it is no surprise that companies like Facebook are used as advertising tools, collecting and selling user data to third-parties. While this is not necessarily malicious, it could see you followed around the internet by targeted ads, or include posts in your feeds that are thought to reflect your opinions rather than a rounded view of the debates taking place online.
The simplest way to protect your online activity from being used to profile you is to use a virtual private network, or VPN, which will add a layer of end-to-end encryption to any network you connect to. This helps to keep your online activity
5. Customising Privacy Settings
Social media encourages users to overshare in order to feel connected. Microblogging every aspect of your own life and commenting on everyone else’s can make it hard to draw a line in the sand when it comes to privacy. This is especially true for young people whose social posts could receive a negative reaction or impact on job prospects in the future.
To minimise these risks, simply make use of privacy settings. By default, most settings are likely to be set to public, so take the time to ensure that your posts are only visible to friends and your contact information is not searchable. It’s also wise to make sure that location services are disabled. This will allow you to share with confidence to people you trust, and restrict access to trolls or anyone else you would prefer not to see your posts and whereabouts.
6. Rethinking What You Share Online
While sharing photos and posts with friends is one of the main uses for social media, it is vital to make sure that you do not unintentionally share anything containing personal information with people outside your trusted circles.
For example, a photograph of you and your pets may seem harmless, but if your pet’s name is also a security answer for an account, you could inadvertently be making it much easier for potential hackers or identity thieves to gain control. Similarly, be careful about revealing unnecessary details about your location that could empower offline criminals too – such as inadvertently sharing your home address, before announcing that you are going away on holiday and leaving the house unattended.
Social media is a powerful tool that we can use to access information as well as change minds, but the key to using it safely is common sense. That means following standard online security best practices like creating secure passwords, but also remembering that social media is, by default, a public forum. So the next time you are about to post, think carefully about who will see it and what the consequences could be.
Terry Hearn is an ardent feminist whose professional work involves writing for a number of international
Featured Image Source: UW-Madison Information Tech