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Be aware of online privacy with Social Media

Article contributed by Wilmie van Tonder (Social Worker and Family Therapist)

I regularly wonder about the whereabouts of old friends and family and without much effort I just go on Facebook. Within seconds I have a pretty good idea what is going on in their lives without adding them onto my friends lists.

As a regular Facebook user, I am fully aware of the fact that there might be others doing the same with me, but I have good security settings in place – unlike those long lost friends and family.

The fact is that when your personal and social online security is not in place you can put more than just yourself at risk. You may even compromise the safety of your family.

At the moment many South Africans are fighting hard to keep their family members and children safe from the dangers out in the world. But staying away from these dangers is not the only safety measure necessary during these times. Making certain information known on public internet sites or via e-mail or SMS message can put you in grave danger or even ruin a good reputation.

Let’s look at a few of the risks usually ignored when socialising on the internet:

  • Status updates: By making your address known on a social media platform and then, for example, saying that you are going on holiday in your status update, you can give criminals the opportunity they’re looking for with the knowledge that you are away from home;
  • Grooming: Paedophiles and people addicted to pornography might have a feast on your children's inadequately secured photo albums. Some might even see that your child wants to network, and make contact with them. This may actually lead your child into believing in a cyber-relationship. There have been cases in which online grooming interactions between a paedophile and a child go horribly wrong – child abductions, rape, brainwashing through involvement in sects, trafficking and even death;
  • Background checks: Employers do thorough background checks on job applicants before hiring them. By going on to some social networks it is very easy for these employers to identify the nature of an applicant’s character and conduct (for example, do they make racist remarks or heavy drinking habits). These online checks of how an applicant represents themselves online definitely influences a prospective employer’s decision before or after an interview with an applicant;
  • Scams: Identity theft has become fairly common with the internet and cellphones. Cyber fraudsters now have a variety of ways to access personal information, give and take personal identities and gain access to financial accounts. At times, these scams use an email or SMS message to prompt an unsuspecting person to pass on personal or banking details; and
  • Spam: Web applications are an easy tool to post your personal email address or cellphone number and unscrupulous promoters and third party list providers will look for this information to spam you with unwanted communications about products and services (including the usual suspects of lottery scams, adult products or adult content).
  • Consumer profiling: Each time you note your preference for a product, service, event or even a statement in the public domain of on a social media site, you are offering an advertiser choice data as to your likes and dislikes and the ability to profile your habits as part of an age or social group.

Based on these risks various sources suggest you put the following in place to ensure your online and real-world identity is protected:

  • Do not make your address or any information on your whereabouts known on online site that do not require it;
  • Refrain from saying when you will be leaving your home and for how long;
  • Regularly update your preferred social network site’s security settings to the maximum. Make a point of updating it when there are site updates are made available. If you have children, make sure that you use security tools that you can trust and that protects your child from harmful adult content as well as sexual predators;
  • When posting photographs online, think about the message that it sends out to the world about yourself. If necessary, ask a friend or family member if they would feel comfortable looking at certain pictures that you are not sure about posting;
  • Although social tools are a means of stating your mood, views and dislikes, make sure it is not offensive or disrespectful;
  • Never make your banking details, pin number or identity number known on public websites, via e-mail or SMS message. This type of information should only be shared in a secure setting, for example; a bank consultant’s office, where you sign off on the information given; and
  • Be selective when listing your likes and dislikes on social networks as advertisers may use certain of your words and phrases to advertise their products.

It is worth the time and effort to put these online security measures in place and to help your children wise up on the matter too. Your life and reputation are worth it.

By Wilmie van Tonder (Social Worker and Family Therapist)
For more information on protecting your children online visit