Social media has become a large part of our culture over the last ten years with the invention of MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and many more. New social media websites spring up frequently, and people sign up for accounts without any forethought towards how their information is used, shared, or protected. We are typically conscious of our physical safety and use common sense when it comes to unsafe conditions. However, we need to use that same common sense when it relates to our safety online. With that being said, here are a few tips to help you manage your safety online:
- Be aware of what you publish about yourself online. Creepers, hackers, and thieves are looking for any personal information they can find that will help them gain access to your accounts, belongings, or whereabouts. Don’t make it easy for someone to anticipate your every move so they can perpetrate a crime against you.
- Be selective in approving friends online. Do not just friend anyone that wants to be friends with you. This person could be a hacker looking to steal information or someone potentially look to stalk you. If possible, do a little research on the person and see if they are legitimate. The best practice is to only friend and / or follow people that you actually know in real life.
- Always be careful when you are chatting online. You may not be chatting with who you think you are chatting with. A “friend-of-a-friend” may be sitting at their computer or your friend may not have logged out when they left a public computer lab. A stranger could gain a lot of information about where you are and your upcoming plans very quickly.
- Use discretion when posting photos. Do your photos reveal where you live, what belongings you own, who your family members are, and other potentially useful clues and information for someone looking to cause problems for you? Celebrating photos publically may seem harmless enough, but photos combined with other online information you post can be used in a forensic-type process by criminals to figure out where you live, where you work, and with whom you associate.
- You should ALWAYS assume that anything you post on the internet will be there forever. So be cautious what you post. Remember anyone can see your posts if they look hard enough, including employers (current and future), professors, your parents, and strangers. Something that may seem funny now at age 18 – 22 could come back to haunt you at age 35 or older.
- Take extra caution when installing third-party applications, particularly for Facebook and Twitter. Thieves and hackers are creating legitimate-looking applications that are being used to steal your information such as logins and passwords.
- Think through how you use social media at work. Social media can be a powerful tool when it comes to being productive in the workplace, however abusing its power while at work can have a profound effect on your future. Be sure to review and follow your company’s social media policy or talk to you supervisor about it. When it doubt, it is always best to keep your personal opinions to yourself related to how you feel and what you think about your workplace. Doing otherwise could cost you your job.
- Use caution when clicking links in messages, websites, and even in emails. Often these links are viruses which can severely damage your computer.
- Finally, ALWAYS use common sense. If something does not “feel” right, then it probably is not right. Just like our safety in the physical sense, we also need to be mindful of our safety in the online world.
With the continual and almost viral growth of social media, we need to be even more deliberate and conscious of the information we post and how we use social media. The guidelines listed above are just a means to help increase your safety online. If you feel threatened by someone online, please contact the local police (724-938-3233), campus police (724-938-4299), Vulcan Village staff (724-938-8990), and / or the Associate Dean for Student Conduct (724-938-4439).
What are some other ways you can think of to increase your safety online? How has social media affected your life? Has it be positive or negative?
***The first 15 Cal U. students to print an actual example or article illustrating an individual demonstrating potentially unsafe social media use and bring it to the Vulcan Village office will receive a Valentine’s Day goody bag. ***