Using social networking sites safely

Social networking has become strongly ingrained in Australian culture. Although social networking may appear to be harmless, it poses some serious threats to our online safety. Get some info on safe practices online and what to do if you get into trouble.

You might like to read this if:

  • You want some info on how to stay safe online
  • You want to better understand the term ‘social networking’
  • You’re interested in learning your rights when you use social networking
  • You’ve come into some trouble on a social networking website
girl in bedroom with laptop

What does ‘social networking’ mean?

Social networking refers to the social interactions made between different groups of people. A popular place for this activity to unfold is on the internet. As a society, we’re using social networking websites, such as Facebook or Twitter, more and more. As we shift in this direction, there are new risks to consider and as a result there are certain measures we need to take to protect our online safety.

What could go wrong?

Unfortunately, despite the many excellent things about using social networking, there are a few different things that could go wrong:

  • Sharing the wrong information with the wrong people
    The internet is full of great things, but there are a lot of people who abuse it and use it illegally. You’ve probably received emails at some point asking for your password or for your credit card details. Don’t do it!
  • Cyberbullying
    Unfortunately, as the Internet becomes more of a big deal in our everyday lives, so does cyber bullying. This involves any bullying that is done using technology, like sending abusive messages or posting incriminating photos of someone. See our fact sheets on cyberbullying for more info on this.
  • Compromising future employment opportunities 
    It has been made really easy to post regular updates of our lives on Facebook , whether we’re at work or on a night out with friends. The important thing to remember is that what you post on your social networking pages will be viewed by lots of different people and not necessarily just your friends. Make sure you either adjust your privacy settings so that your photos and information aren’t accessible to the whole world, or don’t post anything that you’re unsure about. Otherwise, you might find yourself being judged on things that you post without even knowing it. Keep in mind that even after you’ve deleted your account, your photos and information might still exist somewhere else, like on someone else’s page, for a really long time.

  • Terms and conditions 
    Remember that little box that you ticked when you got your account? It said something along the lines of “I accept the terms and conditions” next to it and was preceded by an enormous amount of tiny, boring text. When you tick this box, you are essentially granting the service the rights to your photos and information. Each service has different rules (which are outlined in the tiny, boring text). Facebook, for example, gives itself the right to use anything you post. Check out Lawstuff's fact sheets on copyright and terms and conditions.

Safe practices

When you’re using social networking services, there are some general rules you can keep in mind in order to protect your online safety:

  • Never share your passwords with anyone. Try to make sure that your password is complicated enough so that it can’t be guessed by anyone else.
  • Never use the same password twice. It will limit the damage if one of your accounts gets hacked.  Not sure you can remember more than a few password combos? There are things you can do to create memorable AND unique passwords.
  • Don’t share any personal information with anyone that you don’t know.
  • Be careful about the kinds of photos that you post. A good question to ask yourself is: would I want future employers seeing this photo of me?
  • I know it’s boring, but have a go at reading the terms and conditions.
  • Be on the lookout for scams and spam mail. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.
  • Adjust your privacy settings in such a way that is appropriate for you. For example, check out some of the basic info on Facebook’s privacy settings and private tweets on Twitter. 
  • Report any suspicious or antisocial behaviour to the site administrator. Check out how to report harassment or bullying on different social sites.

If you get into trouble

If you do find yourself in an uncomfortable situation online, you can report the behaviour or sometimes even block the user who is responsible. If you think that the risk is more serious than this, and you are being threatened in any way, contact the police on 000. 

What can I do now?

  • Change your passwords every few months.
  • Get the facts on cyberbullying and what to do about it.
  • Think twice before you post things on social networking websites.

Last reviewed: 04 November, 2016
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