If there's one thing that will make you question your social media safety, it's creepy Netflix series You, which returns to the streaming platform on 9 February. In the show, stalker and serial killer Joe (played by Penn Badgley) proves how alarmingly easy it can be to track someone down via social media – from their home to their workplace.
Think about it: do you share information about your job on social media, in some way? Most of us do. Have you shared pictures from inside – or worse, outside the front – of your home?
Spoiler alert. In season one, You's Joe is hauntingly good at tracking down Beck, the girl he has become obsessed with – from following her movements to finding her apartment via Google image search. In season two, he again proves he can find out about almost anyone's address, hobbies, friends and personal history – and in season three the theme continues. No doubt the next instalment will again address similar issues.
“Heartbreak is always a catalyst for a new path.”
And over on TikTok, one creator is showing her followers how she can ‘find’ them online based on their profiles alone. @Shay.nanigans87 has thousands of followers that ask her to audit their social, which usually ends with her finding a picture of their home or their place of work. “Stay safe!” she always concludes her videos.
Social media is so engrained in our everyday lives, it's easy to forget how sharing of images and videos makes it pretty simple for strangers to track down specific information.
The return of Netflix's You may get you thinking about your own social media safety, however. It's a fictional drama, of course, though its themes are scarily real-life-like, at times. “Joe Goldberg may be a fictional character, but some of his actions are not far from the reality of cyberstalking and real-life stalking,” says Alina Bizga, security analyst at cyber security software provider Bitdefender.
“It’s not that hard to believe that someone can easily become the target of a malicious individual. Stalking via social media is quite easy. You can easily follow the social media rabbit hole into someone else life, tracking their whereabouts, their romantic status, likes and dislikes, and even find out information on their friends and family.”
Here's what you need to look out for.
How to protect yourself online
So how safe is your social media, and what can we do to ensure our security, while still enjoying the creative and connective aspects of Instagram, TikTok, etc? GLAMOUR spoke to a number of cyber security experts to find out.
While it can seem scary that anyone could find out your identity online, it's pretty to share something as simple as our name nowadays. “You can’t go full incognito online,” says Alina. “Social media works by linking people together, so you’d probably want to use your real name to get in touch with friends, family members and potentially make connections to help your career. Using your real name online isn’t that unsafe. We give our real names every day, whether it’s conducting business, heading to the doctor, meeting new people, or in job interviews.”
Dan Card, a cyber security expert at BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, says it's often a number of details that can be put together to create a bigger picture. “Most people aren’t aware of how many ways they can be tracked, purely from the data they’ve provided online. These include geographical locations; links to Companies House data (if you are a director of a business); using 192.com; finding your location using meta-tags (on photos for example); news articles or posts that feature your name; the electoral role and, sinisterly, reverse image search – which takes pictures you have been featured in and identifies the location.”
“There are ways to remain relatively anonymous while still getting the benefits of social media,” says data privacy expert Caroline Carruthers, CEO of Carruthers and Jackson. "But the public needs to develop a level of data literacy, and this means understanding what's happening with your personal data in order to keep safe. It's a real source of frustration to me how open people are with their data on social media without realising the implications of it.
"For example, what is this obsession with tagging yourself at an airport when you're flying away on holiday? You’ve essentially just told a bunch of potential burglars that you’re away for a weekend. If you want to share your lovely holiday pictures, do it when you're home and talk about it in the PAST tense!
“Or, taking a picture of a brand new car outside your house. You might also get your door number in it, and just like that… you’ve told someone where you live, where a brand new car is parked, what model it is, etc.”
“I stood silently outside her house. I followed her to work at a distance. I made sure she never saw me.”
“LinkedIn is generally safer because users delineate between personal and corporate information,” says Caroline. "For example, the location listed is usually the company's HQ, which isn’t too personal and doesn't give people access to your personal working hours, what you're working on etc.
“However, there is still a risk as, particularly if it's a small company, it shows people where you are likely to be working during the day. As with every platform, women can also be approached and sent inappropriate messages, etc. So, it's still important to have some practices in place, such as keeping your profile private only accepting people that you know as a connection.”
Here are some steps we can take to ensure our privacy and security on social media, according to Alina:
- Always use strong and unique passwords when you log in or set up a new account
- Enable two-factor or multi-factor authentication , whenever possible
- Set up a new email address for your social media account
- Set strict privacy settings for your accounts
- Avoid tagging and posting specific locations
- Cleanup your friend/connections list frequently
- Use a security solution on your devices
- Always report suspicious, fraudulent or stalking behaviour to the police and platform
- Think twice before you post your photos, especially ones that may reveal your home address, workplace or other identifiable information, and avoid sharing any kids’ photos online
- Post any travel plans, videos or photos after you have returned from your holiday