Social media is everywhere. In 2017, there were 2.46 billion social media users around the world, a number that’s expected to jump up to 2.77 billion in 2019.
But as the presence of social media continues to grow, the risks associated with constantly sharing information have become more and more apparent. Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal is just one of the most recent events in the troubled saga of Facebook, and Snapchat has seen a multitude of issues trying to censor some of the content that’s being shared on its platform.
With this in mind, parents and guardians need to know how to protect young people from the potential harms of social media so they can enjoy keeping in touch with friends over the summer holidays more safely.
Know the minimum age
All major social media sites and apps stipulate a minimum age for people that want to set up a profile. Surprisingly, research shows that many parents aren’t actually aware of these age limits, especially those that apply to Snapchat. However, knowing these limits helps you to make an informed decision about whether or not your child is ready for social media.
For the biggest sites — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat — the minimum age requirement is 13 years old. Children below this age might not be savvy enough to avoid some of the dangers about which older children may be better informed.
If your child doesn’t meet these requirements, take some time to explain to them that it’s important for them to wait.
Know what not to share
Sharing is the cornerstone of social media: it can’t be fully prevented, nor should it be.
However, there are certain things young people should keep out of the public eye to protect themselves and those around them.
Identifying information —- Young people shouldn’t share details that a criminal could use to their advantage. These include things like a home or school address, a personal phone number, or pictures of their home.
Personal information about friends — Though it’s fun to share stories of what you’ve got up to with friends, it’s wise to check that these stories aren’t going to put others at risk, either through misinterpretation (for example, a story that gives the impression that a friend has engaged in illegal activity) or by providing details about where they were and when.
Current locations — Sites like Facebook allows users to “check in” to certain locations like cinemas, shops and restaurants, by using their phone's location tracking ability. However, any benefits that this might have from a social perspective are outweighed by the risks that come with letting others know where you are. Not only do young users put themselves at risk by advertising their current location, but they might also be highlighting the fact that their home is unattended. This is particularly problematic with Snapchat, which can constantly show where users are in real-time. To combat this, we recommend switching to ghost mode instead.
You can hide your current location in Snapchat by activating “Ghost Mode”.
Image courtesy of addictivetips.com
Scrutinise friend requests
Some social media users have made something of a sport out of the number of friends or followers they can get.
But frivolously growing their network can expose them to the eyes of those that might not be trustworthy.
Young people should quickly check the profiles of anyone who sends them a friend request on Facebook, even if they recognise the name: it’s possible that someone has set up a fake account to get access. If in doubt, they should get in contact with the person that’s reached out to them over email, by phone or in person so they can confirm whether or not it was a legitimate request.
On Twitter and Instagram, users should do a check over all of their followers to see if anyone has added them that they don’t recognise or who doesn’t have any mutual connections. They can block any users that fall into this list by tapping on their profile and clicking “Block”.
Update your privacy settings
One easy way to combat problems with oversharing and fake friend requests is to set up additional privacy measures, all of which are available on major social media platforms.
On Facebook — You can control who sees your child’s posts by going into Settings and selecting “Who can see my stuff?” It’s best to select “Friends” to ensure that the only people that can see your posts are those have already been approved. If there’s a long list and you’re not sure everyone on it can be trusted, choose “Custom” to select specific people that can see your child’s posts instead.
The “Privacy” tab in your Facebook settings allows you to play restrictions on who can see your posts.
Image courtesy of laptopmag.com
On Twitter — A new option in Twitter’s privacy settings is “Protect my tweets”, which allows users to limit those who can see your Twitter activity to just those that they have specifically approved. You can change this in the “Settings” menu.
You can now “protect” your tweets on Twitter so that only people you have approved can see them.
Image courtesy of softwarevilla.com.
On Snapchat — Users can limit who can see their Snapchat stories. Tap the ghost icon, go to the gear icon, and scroll down to the “Who Can…” section. Tap View My Story. You can select Everyone, My Friends or Custom to build your custom list.
On Instagram — By default, everyone can see your posts on Instagram, but you can set up privacy settings so that the only people that see your child’s pictures are on an approved follower list. Go to the Instagram app and click the gear icon in the top right of your profile. There, you can select the option to change to a “Private Account”. Just be aware that if their Instagram profile is linked up with other platforms like Facebook, users there will be able to see the pictures they share even if their Instagram account is set to “Private”.
Switching to a private account on Instagram means you can control who sees your photos.
Image courtesy of nimblepost.com.
Avoid clicking questionable links
There’s an almost overwhelming amount of information shared on social media via links to various other sources, whether it’s news websites, celebrity profiles or aggregate sites like Reddit.
But not all of the links shared online are safe. Sometimes, a link to a questionable website — or even to malware — can be distributed via Facebook and Twitter, where many users fall into its trap.
One of the best ways to avoid falling into this trap is to do a quick Google search for the name of the article being shared or the name of the website it’s being attributed to. If the site isn’t indexed or the article doesn’t appear to exist, it’s possible that the link being shared is malicious.
You should report these posts to prevent others from being caught out. If a questionable link is being shared by someone that you or your child knows well, consider messaging them directly to bring it to their attention; sometimes, malware can share posts without the user’s permission.
By following these tips, you can rest safe in the knowledge that your child, or a young person you’re responsible for, will be able to use social media in a way that reveals less about themselves to strangers so they can be safer online.
You can go to our Safeguarding Hub for more safeguarding tips.
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