There is no doubt that social media has revolutionized the way we communicate, but as the ability to reach individuals expanded, media companies were given unprecedented access to valuable data about consumers’ demographics, buying habits, and more. These factors caused social media networks to evolve from being a handy means for keeping in touch with friends and family to being used in ways that have a serious impact on society and shape politics, the business world, cultures, education, careers, innovation, and more.
The spread of disinformation
Because digital timelines move so quickly, social media users often do not verify what they’ve seen, and social media stories, whether true or not, often go viral. A great deal of information is also spread through images and videos, typically humorous in nature, that is copied and shared by social media users and in many instances not verified or based on valid facts, statistics or data. In some cases, inflammatory, unverified or outright false information is spread and the more outrageous and newsworthy something is, the more likely that many people will share it.
This unintended consequence has allowed social media platforms to be used as an avenue for spreading fake news, negativity, and for the targeting, intimidation, bullying and abuse of individuals, businesses and organisations alike.
In most instances the spreading of fake news can have a profound impact on society and sharing of fake news and its viral circulation on social media platforms has become a global concern for all members of society including governments, policymakers, organisations and businesses. This is because fake news is specifically designed to plant a seed of mistrust and intensify existing social and cultural issues being experienced worldwide by promoting political, regional and religious undercurrents and which is intended to influence our thinking.
Besides the issue of fake news, social media can also be abused by fraudsters and/or cybercriminals to take advantage of social media users through:
- Harvesting information – Gathering and sharing unprotected information, generally for targeted advertising purposes, but also sometimes for the purposes of cloning and identity theft
- Profile cloning (online identity theft) – using unprotected images and information to create duplicated or replica accounts to impersonate users and commit crimes under a false identity
- Malware-based phishing – requesting or retrieving personal information while posing as reputable individuals or organisations or sending links with malware or that redirect to fraudulent websites
Best Practice Guidelines
Social media networks are full of dangers that could profoundly affect you personally or professionally. The risks associated with online or social media accounts will always be there, simply because more people will ‘see’ us and can access our information and /or details. You can avoid many of these pitfalls by ensuring that you’re knowledgeable about what you share and who it’s shared with.
- Never divulge personal information such as identity numbers, usernames or passwords to anyone under any circumstances whatsoever
- Avoid listing information such as your full name(s), birth date, relationship status, work information, home/office address, school and educational information etc
- Only extend or accept invites from people (or entities) known to you or that is a trusted source based on personal knowledge
- Use the security settings offered by social media platforms - for password security verification questions, opt for passwords instead of answers to specific questions
- Install anti-virus and anti-malware software, enable real-time protection and keep the virus signature files up-to-date
- If your social networking profile is compromised, report this to the site immediately, alert your contacts and change your passwords
- Adopt a position of sensible caution and common sense when engaging online with family, friends, colleagues or customers
- Do not disclose confidential company information online and refrain from sharing personal views online if these could reflect poorly on the company