How to use social media safely (for individuals and businesses)

Social media is part of the fabric of most of our lives, and one of our main tools of communication through the pandemic. Yet its ongoing popularity masks the risks of using it, particularly in a business context. Whether or not you realise it, each post you make says something about you – and may be giving away valuable personal information.

While we all know that the information we upload to the Internet is difficult to remove, that doesn’t mean we have to panic about our privacy. Instead, there are some simple steps that users can take in order to help keep their social media information secure, and protect businesses from the risk of data breaches.

Why social media could pose a risk

Social media is an inherently personal enterprise. This is obviously true of personal social media accounts, where we regularly upload private photos and videos, and share our thoughts on various topics. As businesses seek to create more personal relationships with customers, however, the staff using those accounts can let their guards down, and say or reveal more than they intend to.

Anything you upload to the internet moves outside of your control, and can be instantly shared and replicated. If you accidentally reveal personal information, say something you regret, or post something you weren’t supposed to, it won’t be enough to simply delete that information. In all likelihood, it will be shared around the world – causing damage to your staff and your reputation, or leading to your data being compromised.

Take a moment to consider some of the types of data that you might share on social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn or TikTok:

  • You likely have a photo of yourself on every social media network you’re on, as well as additional photos with friends, family and colleagues. This could be used to spoof your identity on any number of social networks or platforms.
  • Status updates. Text posts give people an idea of your current thoughts and opinions, as well as a sample of your writing style.
  • Posts could easily reveal where you are, as could photos, check-ins or location-tagged posts. If you’re on LinkedIn, you will also likely have your full job history available.
  • Social media networks that allow you to follow or like pages or personalities will give people an idea of your likes and dislikes, what your politics are, and the entertainment that you consume.
  • Other personal information. Many other types of personal information like your job title, marital status, family relationships, pet names and contact details are commonly shared on social networks.

Why does it matter if your personal information is compromised?

Unless you particularly care about marketing, you might think that revealing information like your favourite artists, the names of your pets or photos with colleagues online is harmless. Unfortunately, any personal information you post online can also pose a security risk. Your personal information could potentially be used:

  • To find answers to security questions. Many services and devices still use security questions such as ‘what was your mother’s maiden name?’ or ‘what was the name of your first pet?’ in order to grant access to your account. Answers to questions such as these are often trivial to find on social media networks.
  • In identity theft. With your full name, home or email address, and other key pieces of personal information, a criminal can impersonate you and gain access to your accounts, or set up entirely new accounts in your name.
  • For social engineering. A cybercriminal could find out what your favourite band is, and send you a phishing scam that offers discounted tickets to the band’s next show; or find out the name of your pet, and call you pretending to be your veterinarian asking you to pay an invoice for treatment.

Even if you delete a status update or any other post, social media giants have the ability to retain a back-up copy of this information. Leaks such as the Cambridge Analytica scandal – or simply looking at many sites’ terms and conditions – show that this data is also frequently used for marketing purposes, and sold to external companies. Archive sites also exist to replicate this information, while individual users can save or screenshot posts, and share them with little recourse.

Using social media safely

The safest approach to social media is not to use it at all. However, this is obviously not practical or possible for most of us, who rely on it for personal communication and business marketing. As such, it’s important to internalise a strict set of rules for social media, limiting what we post, what we engage with, and how we access it across devices. These include:

  • Strong passwords. This is your first line of defence, and should ideally be a ‘passphrase’ consisting of several random words strung together. This password should be memorised rather than written down anywhere, and should never be used for multiple accounts.
  • Account security. Most social media networks offer additional protection such as security questions to reset your account, or multi-factor authentication, which requires you to provide additional information (e.g. a key from an email or authenticator app) to login.
  • Device security. Your social media apps and accounts tend to stay logged in, meaning that anyone who gains access to your computer, phone or other device will have access to them. This could lead to data being stolen, as well as your feeds being defaced – something that can be damaging for individuals and businesses.
  • Use privacy controls. Many social media platforms allow you to limit posts or profile information to people who you have added, or to a subset of those people. It should go without saying that you shouldn’t add people who you don’t trust – and that the network itself will still have access to all of your data.
  • Avoid phishing. Dodgy links can lead you to input information on websites that pretend to be a site you trust. These links are most common in emails, but are also rife on social media, where many links are shortened. Don’t click on anything you don’t trust, and unshorten links before clicking on them where possible.

Oversharing your information on social media is risky, and can pose the threats detailed above. The best advice is to remain mindful of what you choose to share, and not to put yourself at unnecessary risk. For any more information, including how you can protect your social media accounts as a business, contact Sota today.


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