In the recent, tragic and completely preventable death of Caroline Flack I think now is a better time than any to evaluate the way we interact online and how to keep ourselves safe. A lot of information currently being circulated makes it sound like the online world isn’t much fun for people. But it can also be an amazing source of support, friendship and information. And pressure is on social media companies to tackle the problem. In the meantime, it’s just sensible to be aware of the potential downsides, though hopefully you won’t experience them yourself. And the good news is that there’s lots you can do to protect yourself and stay safe online.
The easiest way to protect yourself online is to think of the online space as if it were a real space – think of your social media accounts like your home. If you wouldn’t invite strangers into your home, don’t let people you don’t know access your profiles or accept their friend requests.
If you wouldn’t let a stranger in the street start flicking through the pics on your phone, don’t share images with someone you don’t know online. If you wouldn’t put up with someone shouting abuse at you outside your house then shut the door on them when they do it online too – block their account.
If a real-life stranger started contacting and following you you’d probably tell a trusted friend or someone who could help – you can do the same if it happens online.
If someone makes you feel unsafe by hanging around, following you from one place to another or harassing you, you can report them to the social media company as well as raising the alarm in real life. If they threaten to hurt you, or seem to be stalking you, you can also report them to the police. These things are just as illegal online as they are in real life.
The way you respond to online harassment is 100% up to you. If it feels powerful to respond or retweet, that’s okay. If you prefer to log off and take a break, that’s fine too. You don’t have to go online if you don’t feel like it – it’s OK to take breaks from social media. In fact, I’d advise it from time to time. If you spend too much time glued to the screen you start to go weirdly electronic and forget how to communicate effectively with real humans.
So here is my Top 10 Tips for Staying Safe Online:
- Privacy Settings – All social media accounts come with privacy settings – have a look at them and make sure they are set so that strangers can’t access and view your information. This doesn’t mean your friends won’t be able to find you, but it means you are in control of who sees your stuff.
- Pictures – You can usually set individual privacy settings for pictures too. Remember, once a picture is posted online there’s no stopping it. Even if you delete a picture it could already have been copied and shared by someone else, so the only way to completely control what pictures are out there is to think carefully about what you put up in the first place and what privacy settings you put against it.
- Passwords – A ‘strong’ password is one nobody else could guess – so don’t use family names or dates of birth etc. Adding numbers and/or symbols also increases strength and keep your passwords separate so you have a different one for each online account – that way even if someone hacked into your email or Facebook they wouldn’t be able to access your online banking or your Twitter.
- Personal Information – Never put out your address, phone number, what school/university/college you go to or any other personal details online. Don’t give them out to anyone who contacts you online either. ‘Why could you possibly need to know?’ is a solid question to ask here.
- Two-Step Verification – This is a nifty setting available on most email and social media accounts. It’s a bit of a faff but it’s worth it if you want to stay extra secure. You add a phone number to your account and when you access your profile from a new computer you get a code texted to you to verify it’s you and not someone else trying to get in.
- Reporting – Social media companies are running a business just like anyone else and they have a responsibility to keep their users safe. If someone is harassing, abusing or trolling you online or sending abusive messages, take a screenshot, block their profile and use whatever reporting function is available. If harassment, abuse or trolling is a regular occurrence, repeat as many times as needed until action is taken.
- Stranger Danger – Remember anyone can set up a social media profile using photos they’ve stolen from elsewhere online and all is not always what it seems. This means being wary of people you don’t know who befriend you online – remember, they may not be who they say they are.
- Keep It Online – Don’t agree to meet someone offline unless you already know them in real life.
- Think Before You Post – As with most advice on this list, this sounds pretty obvious but as recent history shows, plenty of people still need to be reminded. The internet has done this weird thing where it’s taken away the feeling that we’re talking to a real person and the time we had in the good old days to think before communicating with them. As a general rule, if you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face in real life you probably shouldn’t day it online. In fact, saying something out loud before you post it is a brilliant way to see whether it sounds completely ridiculous or harmful or just plain rude before you click that button and it’s too late to take it back.
- Help Is Available – You’re never alone. If anything goes wrong or feels scary online, it’s probably best to talk to someone about it, just to set your mind at rest. Talk to a friend or someone you trust, and if you don’t feel able to talk to someone you know, there are great organisations which can provide support over email, phone, Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook. I’ll list some fantastic resources at the end.
All of this is fairly easily done, and the occasional downsides shouldn’t put you off using social media if you want to. If we were all a bit more diligent, responsible and kind to one another, the internet would be a safe place to be. The circumstances that Caroline Flack found herself in were unenviable but we don’t have to let history repeat itself, it’s time for change, let’s all be a part of that.
Caroline Flack 1979-2020
Lauren @ TEWP x