9 simple ways to stay safe and happy on social media

Anna Whiteley
Aug 3, 2018 · 7 min read

Social media is an incredible tool with masses of advantages, so why does it cause such problems?

From trolling, cyber-stalking, body shaming, hacking and identity theft to anxiety, depression and addiction, social media has been blamed for it all. But it’s not the fault of social networks, it’s the way we use (or misuse) them. Carelessness and lack of knowledge about social safety leads to these negative outcomes.

As adults, we’re not taught how to stay safe and happy when using social media. It was new to us when internet time began and grew rapidly, not giving us the chance to learn the rules and etiquette. Now is the time to educate ourselves. So we can stay happy and safe on social media; protecting not only our data and information but our mental health too.

Here are my 9 top tips:

Go back to basics — It’s never too late to go back and learn how to use the sites properly and effectively. Each network offers their own support and information pages. Familiarise yourself. Check the current status of your privacy settings and make use of them if you’re not already. Remember you have control. Set the privacy controls up for each network to control who sees what and also what you see. It’s easy to perform quick security checks for each platform, check out my post on how to do that.

Don’t overshare — Keep private stuff private, think about what you’re telling people. You may, over time and through various posts unknowingly share your full name, address, email, phone number or when you’re likely to be away on holiday, plus what the inside of you house looks like! It’s not difficult to piece all this together, making you an easy target for hackers or thieves. Keep your personal information safe. If you are sharing a lot, make sure your privacy is super tight so only true friends can see everything.

Strengthen security — There are are few ways to do this.
1) Create strong passwords and protect them. Strong passwords include at least 12 characters and have a mixture of numbers, symbols, capital and lower-case letters. It’s important to not use the same passwords across multiple accounts, but this leaves you with the issue of memorising them all. Password managers like Lastpass are a game changer here. They’ll securely store all your info so you only have to remember one master password.
2) Set up two factor authentication on your logins. This is a security measure that requires an extra code when you sign in to make sure it’s really you. It’s available for most of the major social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.
3) Protect your device. Installing antivirus software to safeguard against nasty bugs; there are some great free options out there. Beware of public Wi-Fi. Finally, keep your devices and apps up-to-date. Yes, it’s a faff to update to the latest software version sometimes, but not doing so exposes you to viruses and makes your accounts vulnerable.

What goes on social, stays on social — don’t share something on a public site that you aren’t happy for the whole world to see! Even if you take it down soon after, it could already have been shared, screenshotted or sent to someone else privately. Think potential employers, future relationships or if you’re in a position of power, the press. Don’t post anything that could be construed as defamatory or discriminatory against others. Journalists and reporters regularly use social sites to gain public feedback, anything you post can be potentially quoted by the media. Employers search social sites for background insights and who doesn’t do a quick search on potential love interests? What may seem like a bit of fun at the time, may come back to haunt you.

Wise up — Before you like and share, stop and think, is this real? Don’t believe everything you read. Fake news, satire, poor journalism, propaganda, fake profiles and hoaxes are everywhere. By sharing these, you’re spreading potentially harmful and hurtful lies and rumours about innocent people or sharing suspicious sites with ulterior motives. Once you begin to take a closer look at what you’re sharing it becomes easier to spot the fakers. Most of these articles or posts are click bait, made up to get as many clicks as possible and will lead you to adverts or sites that pose a risk to your cyber security. Remember the difference between fact and opinion and follow trusted news sites. Has it been reported anywhere else such as radio, TV or newspapers? Is the organisation sharing the ‘news’ one you’ve heard of before? Is it an official web address? If something looks fishy, explore it further before acting or ignore it. Beware the catfish too! If something doesn’t look right, it’s probably not.

All it takes is a click of a link –Whilst it might be fun to find out what type of cheese you are or what your unicorn name would be, is it worth exposing your profile? Most of these quizzes and games ask to connect your profile before proceeding, by agreeing to this you’re allowing these sites to access your personal information. The same goes for offers and giveaways, even if it says it’s from a well-known brand and appears genuine, unless it’s from a trusted site it probably isn’t. Inspect the URL before clicking, does it match who it’s claiming to be? Whilst it’s a horrid thought to question and not trust everything you see on social sites, it’s essential that you do so. A healthy dose of scepticism can save you, your friends and family (a share from you, is seen as an endorsement) from a range of problems that span the mildly inconvenient to the stuff of nightmares. If you receive a message from a friend wanting you to click a link, evaluate the message first. Is it something they would normally send? If not, their account may have been hacked. Notify them on another channel. A general rule I like to follow is if it looks/sounds too good to be true, it probably is! Don’t click it!

Spot something inappropriate? Call it out! I’m talking bullying, body shaming, sexism, racism, attempted reputation destruction and anything else that can make you or someone else feel uncomfortable. Whether it’s in a group, in an article or during a discussion. Bullying or online abuse can happen to anyone of any age and at any time. You don’t have to be directly involved to offer support. If you see someone being targeted don’t ignore it or wait for someone else to act. Each of the sites make it very easy to block or report something or someone. Use this feature, even if you’re not sure. The social site will investigate further. Intervening will not only help the other person, but you’ll feel great for doing a good deed. The same goes for inappropriate images, videos or anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. Don’t just scroll past, report it. It makes the platform a better place for you and every other user and makes your social experience happier.

Work on your social wellbeing — Despite its many benefits social media, if not used properly, can begin to cause problems. Often fuelling addiction, depression and anxiety. It’s usually the way we use our networks that makes us unhappy and it can be changed with a little education. Change your mind-set and make personal rules to adhere to, like not checking social sites whilst you’re socialising with friends or family. It can wait! If you’ve got too many tabs open (in your brain or device) then switch off. Set short times where you disconnect from your device and reconnect with something else, a book, a family member or a hobby. Forget the popularity, it doesn’t matter how many ‘friends’ or followers you have and if someone unfollows you don’t sweat it!
Have a purpose behind each post you share. Ask yourself why you’re sharing this information. If it’s purely for sympathy then it’s not a good idea, it breeds negativity and people will get sick of seeing it. Instead ask for support or advice, it’s ok to request help. Your mental health is important and networking sites can be invaluable for support.
Finally, turn off nonessential notifications so you’re not a slave to social media and remember, if you don’t want to see something on social you don’t have to. You have the power to secretly mute accounts, without offending.

Safeguard children — If we want to safeguard the mental health and positive social presence of future generations then we must address the issues with our children. Talk to your kids about social safety and follow these steps with them too. As a parent, cyberspace is a daunting and often terrifying place to send your little ones to, but there’s so much to explore and learn. Rather than fear and avoidance, it’s better they learn to respect the possible dangers of what they are doing and to negotiate it safely. As an example, when teaching them how to cross a road. We don’t avoid it; we teach them how to do it safety.
We can teach our children to be safe on social media sites, but we must also protect their information on our own personal accounts. Parents, be careful when sharing details of your children publicly. Think about the information you’re giving out about them, names, date of birth, the school they go to and if you’re sharing photos, what they look like too.

It’s essential to remember that most people never encounter a problem when using social media. If you use it with care and armed with this knowledge then the benefits are endless. Enjoy it, use it to your advantage and let’s make it a happier, safer and welcome place for all.

Will you be following these steps? Have I missed anything? Let me know on Twitter or Facebook.

Sway Social

We aim to educate about social media and digital culture. We'll help you sway people in the right direction. Ready to find out more? Visit our website: http://swaysocial.media/

Anna Whiteley

Written by

Digital & Education consultant📱🌍💻 | Owner @_SwaySocial 👩🏻‍💻 | | Working with schools & families to safeguard children online💡| Taker of photos 📷

Sway Social

We aim to educate about social media and digital culture. We'll help you sway people in the right direction. Ready to find out more? Visit our website: http://swaysocial.media/

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