5 golden rules for social network users

Everything you need to know about safe posting on any social network, boiled down to five crucial rules.

The total number of people in the world is believed to be about 7.4 billion. By the end of 2015 Facebook had climbed to 1.59 billion users. With an annual increase of 17% the social media behemoth is simply too big to be ignored. The same is true for many other popular social networks.

5 golden rules for social network users

Twitter’s 310 million monthly active users post 347,222 times in the average minute. Many of them tweet more than a hundred times every day, and even more people tweet less often than once per day. More than 40 billion photos have been shared on Instagram since its launch, and more than 80 million photos are published there every day.

That’s an enormous amount of data: some important, some interesting, some useless. Social networks, with their own trends and laws, work as an extension of the real world — the one that has a great impact on our offline lives. In this article, we offer five simple rules we think every user of social networks should keep in mind.

1. Don’t feed the trolls

Internet trolls are provocateurs who join discussions to irritate other people for particular kind of “fun.” You can find trolls everywhere: on forums, chats, and any other platforms for online communication. News media comment areas are known for having high troll participation. For sure, there are bunches of them on social networks.

How should you speak to trolls? Don’t! Just ignore them. Many people take the bait and start hot debates trying to explain their point of view and spend a great deal of time and effort in vain. Someone is always wrong on the Internet — don’t waste your time and energy on trolls.

If you are especially unlucky, you might meet a troll who’ll seek revenge — spam your e-mail or even try to ruin your life. For example, as the result of cyberbullying that included swatting and other incursions into the offline world an American couple lost time, money, jobs, and ultimately their marriage.

2. Don’t post or repost anything illegal

The United Arab Emirates and New Zealand have laws that strictly punish trolling and cyberbullying with penalties ranging from a $35,000 fine to imprisonment.

Nevertheless, you can be fined or face even more serious consequences for posts, reposts, and other actions on social media in most countries. For example, two men were given a four-year jail sentence after they created a Facebook event encouraging a riot. A man in Bangladesh was sentenced to jail for joking about his desire for the prime minister to die. So you’d better know the laws in your country and remember them when posting or reposting something on Facebook or Twitter.

3. Don’t repost scams

Scammers often trick victims with shocking stories about dying babies, drowning puppies, or struggling veterans. Such posts travel around social networks disguised as calls for help. In fact they are used for financial theft, phishing, and spreading malware.

Such messages generate a lot of reposts, but a large proportion of them are scams. Real calls for help are usually created by your family, friends, and friends of your friends. Giveaways are organized on official pages of companies, not individual strangers.

That’s why it’s better to be vigilant and do a check on each post before clicking its “Like” or “Share” buttons. Don’t want to check each and every post of this kind? Then don’t click on it at all — don’t risk turning yourself and your friends into scam victims.

4. Think of readers’ reactions

You probably have colleagues, superiors, and clients among your Facebook or Instagram connections. When you apply for a new work position, for example, human resources will likely check your social media profiles. Consider what you want them to see — and more to the point, what you don’t want them to see.

You should also consider carefully what you post on pages of other people and of public-facing accounts such as corporations or universities. For example, in 2013 a man from Pennsylvania was fired for “complimenting” a female student online. His comment was neither sexual nor inappropriate, but evidently, the girl’s mother did not like it. A year before that, a teacher from Moses Lake, Washington, was fired because a woman whom she never met complained about her post. Those are just a few examples that demonstrate why it’s better to keep your dubious photos and posts for your real friends.

If you need help hiding private posts from curious eyes of complete strangers, see our posts about Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Tumblr privacy settings.

5. Don’t make your private data public

Many social networks offer to “check in” the location of where you took a photo or posted something, or display the places you’ve visited. If you are interested in an event, the social network can notify your friends in case they want to tag along.

By default anybody can access that data, and criminals have a thousand and one methods to use it, from breaking into your house to stealing your digital identity. That’s why we highly recommend you hide this kind of data from strangers with the help of Facebook privacy settings.

It’s also a good reason not to add to your friend list indiscriminately: The people sending requests to connect with you can be bots, trolls, or even criminals. Even if Facebook informs you that you two have dozens of mutual friends, don’t befriend other people until you are sure that they are real acquaintances.