Social networks have undoubtedly become part of our lives, allowing people to connect, share and engage with others everywhere. While they have revolutionized how people communicate, they have also introduced new privacy issues and security risks that can compromise the lives of individuals and well-structured organizations. Users should understand the potential dangers and learn how to stay safe online.
The rise of social networks began in the late 1990s with websites like Classmates and SixDegrees, which aimed to connect students and maintain ties between them. However, when online platforms like Twitter, Meta (Facebook), Snap and others were launched, they gained global popularity with hundreds of millions of users. According to surveys, the percentage of adult internet users participating in online communities increased significantly from 8% in 2005 to 64% in 2011, around 80% in 2012, and 90% of teen users today use one or more social media sites.
While social networks have made it easier to make friends and share information, everyday, there is a limitless amount of personal content get uploaded publicly. A research done by Pew Internet & American Project (2011) found that while most Facebook users do not update their status regularly, they tend to comment on other users’ videos, posts, and “like” each other’s content more frequently than sending private messages. Another study by Pew Internet & American Project suggested that as of today, half of U.S. adults get news at least sometimes from social media.
Furthermore, social media has become a cost-effective way for companies and organizations to target consumers or audiences. However, it is worth noting that employers may also check a candidate’s social media profiles to gain insight into their character, interests, and behavior.
It’s also important to highlight the potential impact that social media can have on individuals’ beliefs and attitudes.
Due to the highly personalized and algorithm-driven nature of these platforms, users are regulary exposed to content that aligns with their existent views and opinions. Such a content creates a “filter bubble” that can reinforce biases and prevent exposure to alternative perspectives. Additionally, the constant stream of information and social validation on social media can create a sense of urgency and emotional reactions, leading to impulsive decision-making and potentially contributing to the spread of misinformation or propaganda. As a result, it’s crucial to approach social media use with a critical eye and seek out diverse viewpoints to avoid falling victim to potential brainwashing propaganda.
The risks associated with social networks can go into two main categories: technical and non-technical. Technical issues include hacking and malware attacks and methods. However, non-technical issues are more relevant to human behavior and how users interact with each other or with the platform itself on online communities. A tactic called social engineering has arisen consequently, which involves skillfully manipulating people to take actions that may or may not be in their best interests. Social engineering relies on information-gathering techniques and human attitudes to accomplish successful attacks, making it a form of human penetration rather than traditional technical hacking.
The risks of excessive and unconscious usage of social networks are significant, as personal information shared openly on these sites can create a detailed picture of one’s life. Numerous parties may be interested in collecting data about cyber users, including governments, criminals, terrorists, security professionals, and organizations. While governments may use publicly available information to enhance their decision-making and domestic security, cybercriminals and hackers may use this information for malicious purposes. Therefore, it is crucial for users to be aware of the potential risks and take steps to protect their personal identifiable informaiton.
To stay safe online, users should keep their personal information private, use strong and unique passwords for each account, and be wary of unsolicited messages or friend requests.
It is important to regularly review privacy settings and limit the amount of personal information shared publicly. While social networks offer many benefits, one has to use them responsibly and stay vigilant against potential risks.
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