Staying Safe on Social Networking SitesThe popularity of social media sites, including the omnipresent Facebook and Twitter, has exploded over the last five years.

In August 2012, Facebook hit one billion users and over 50 million individuals communicate with their friends and favorite celebrities, in 140 characters or less, via Twitter.

You’re a constant fixture on Facebook and for the most part, you limit your communications to individuals on your friends list. That is, until you notice an ad offering a free subscription to your favorite magazine. You innocently click on the banner, without realizing you’ve fallen victim to another one of the well-planned advanced targeted attacks, lurking in cyberspace. Staying safe on your favorite social media site involves using common sense, remaining in your comfort zone and reading your privacy setting’s fine print.

Getting Too Personal

Everyone has that one friend on Facebook who feels the incessant need to post every mundane aspect of his or her daily life. Aside from alienating what friends they have with stories of a recent foot surgery, what these well-meaning individuals don’t realize is that divulging their weekend getaway plans actually leaves them vulnerable to internet-savvy thieves. If you’re planning a weeklong vacation to Aruba, let everyone know… once you’ve arrived home.

Update Your Anti-Virus Suite

Cybercriminals are all too aware of social media’s popularity and are using individual’s lack of properly maintained antivirus software to gain access to bank and email accounts. When purchasing an antivirus suite, make sure you’re also protecting yourself from malware and spyware; these are two popular targeted attacks many cybercriminals employ.

Understand Privacy Settings

This is a tricky, sensitive subject for many Facebook users, especially because the privacy settings are constantly being reworked and “updated.” The next time you log into Facebook, Twitter or any other similar site, take the time to read the privacy settings and update your account accordingly. If you’re having trouble grasping the site’s intricate privacy policy, don’t hesitate to ask a friend or family member for assistance.

Unidentified Links

Your early morning routine now includes 30 minutes on the elliptical, three cups of extremely strong coffee and 20 minutes updating your Facebook account. As you read about your friend’s debauchery-filled trip to Las Vegas, you notice an ad for free Christmas wrapping paper. The banner seems innocent enough, but unfortunately you’ve just infected your computer with malware. The next time you’re tempted by a flashy banner, remember a simple social networking rule: if the URL seems suspicious and you cannot verify the sender’s existence, stay away.

Keep Tabs on Your Smallest Social Media Guru

It’s estimated that nearly 7.5 million Facebook users are under age 13. If your little social networking addict spends more time on Facebook or Twitter than eating and sleeping, make sure you know who his friends are and teach him basic internet safety. Remind him to not click on any ads, ignore suspicious friend requests and avoid giving out any personal information.

Technically, though, Facebook doesn’t allow users under 13 to create a profile, but many youngsters can lie about their birthdate to easily get around this stipulation. As a good rule of thumb, encourage children to communicate the old fashioned way:  in person.

Use Common Sense

Far and away, the most effective way to stay safe while navigating through the complex world of social media is to use common sense. Here are a few more points to remember:

  • If you get a friend request from an individual you’ve never met in life, ignore it.
  • Understand how the site gathers and uses your personal information.
  • Use a strong password and change it at least two to three times a year.
  • Never post anything offensive or highly personal if you’re applying for a job. Many prospective employers will check your social networking sites to gauge your integrity.
  • When in doubt, close down your account if you’ve fallen victim to cybercriminals.

Lastly, if you have a friend or associate who is requesting your financial assistance or seeking loans, contact them directly before opening your check book. Many cybercriminals hijack an individuals’ personal information to create a fake social media account. They then ask the victim’s friends and family members for a loan or to donate money to a charitable organization.

Social media has brought with it unparalleled ways of keeping us connected. However, it has as many pitfalls as it has benefits. By following these suggestions, you can continue to enjoy your networking, as it was meant to be.  


This post was contributed by Frances Wieland. Frances is an IT specialist and social media strategist. When she’s not updating her company’s social networking profiles, Frances can be found posting pictures on Facebook. Frances advises using common sense when it comes to just about anything on the internet. 

Image provided by Rosaura Ochoa from Flickr’s Creative Commons