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Social media: worth a thousand precautions

There are myriad safety and privacy concerns to consider as the explosion of pictures on social media continues.
By Kirra Pendergast

More than 10 per cent of all images captured in the two centuries of photographic history were taken in the last 12 months alone – and that proportion is growing quickly.

With the advent of smartphones and social media, there is not a minute of the average daily life that goes by that can’t be snapped, edited and shared across the world instantaneously.

And while this spectacular pinnacle of technological advancement may have become one of the most widely used, successful and powerful tools on the planet, it is also being abused and misused. There are tragic stories of child exploitation – a devastating industry that shatters the lives of thousands of children worldwide – but there is also another, more insidious face to social media and the insta-image.

Social Media is never #NoFilter. It is a heavily edited, carefully selected, highly manufactured snapshot of our daily lives.

People don’t have diarrhea or menstrual cycles on Instagram, they don’t have bad hair days or depression. It doesn’t rain, no one works, the surf is always pumping. It is an acutely manicured fabrication. Even when the negatives are broadcast, they are presented as something to praise or revere, lacking everything that makes us human.

Here’s a brief overview of how to help protect your professional reputation on Instagram.

  1. Privacy settings

Instagram allows you to determine who follows you. If an account is set to private in Instagram’s privacy settings, sending a request is the only way to become a follower of someone and you must accept a request to allow people to follow you. This way is a lot safer than having a public profile because only those you approve to follow you are able see your pictures.

Privacy settings can be helpful but they aren’t foolproof. Always assume that everything you post on Instagram can be seen by everyone, as there are easy work-arounds available and people who are following you may screenshot and share anything you post without your permission.

To set your account to private:

  1. Open Instagram and go to the profile page
  2. Click on the ‘settings’ icon in the upper right-hand corner (it may be a wheel on some phones or three dots stacked vertically)
  3. Scroll down to Private Account
  4. Swipe the button across to the right

2. Collective total of ALL posts

It’s easy for people to look through your account and piece together information to work out places that you frequent, when you are there, where you work, where you go to school and so on. Patterns in your daily life can easily start to become clear in your Instagram feed. You need to be aware of what you are posting and how it pieces together to tell a bigger story.

  1. Photo map

Whenever you post a new photo to Instagram, the final screen in the process can offer an ‘Add to Your Photo Map’ option. This is switched off by default, so unless you specifically turn it on, the content won’t appear on your map. If you do enable the feature, you have the option to name the location where the photo was taken.

In light of the previous point about the collective total of your posts, it is recommended that you do not use this feature. No matter how excited you are about where you are. Remember, this is totally your ego doing the thinking; do you really want complete strangers knowing exactly where you are and what you are doing, just for the sake of a ‘like’?

People can keep clicking down to street level on a photo map icon and see exactly where you are. If you are a parent, please ensure that your children have this function disabled. We have all seen young girls taking selfies in the mirror, but think about what can happen if they publish one of these posts with the caption: “Mum and Dad are out – I am home alone and bored” and their photo map is on. If you have a public account, anyone on Instagram can view your Photo Map by tapping the map pin icon on your profile.

If you have a private account, any of your approved followers can view the map. If you don’t have any photos on your map, the icon is disabled and doesn’t lead anywhere. To remove the photo map completely, you must deselect all the images that are currently on it. You can remove images from the map on the Photo Map page itself. Tap the menu button in the top right corner of the Photo Map screen and choose ‘Edit’. Deselect any pictures you don’t want to appear on the map. Any images you remove remain in your Instagram feed, but the geolocation information associated with them is deleted permanently. If you want to restore a picture to the map, you must upload the image again.

  1. Following and followers

As mentioned, people can follow you without having to be approved. An excess amount of ‘following’ can be detrimental. You are putting yourself on someone else’s radar by following them. More following leads to more followers. This can lead to more people seeing you and anything you put out there – potentially great for business, but extremely volatile for the individual. The worst part is that it is easy for someone on Instagram to establish a false identity, appearing innocent and benign but hiding a much darker reality. You can never truly tell on the internet.

  1. Think before you post

Keep private information private. Don’t share your home address or other sensitive information online. Do not share photos of passports, driver’s licences or any other form of identification. Always remember that Instagram is a public forum and whatever you share is just a screenshot and crop tool away from being shared as someone else’s image. You are setting up a digital history for them that can never be erased.

Instagram bypasses all adult content filters and there is no way you can stop your child from being exposed to violent, pornographic or drug-related content. There are gun sales. There is a culture of self-harm that encourage children to engage in anorexia, cutting and more. It is not just about locking down who can see them. You need to understand that when little ones search for something like #chicks, it may seem perfectly innocent to them but they may end up seeing totally inappropriate images.

Kirra Pendergast is managing director of consulting group Safe on Social.

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