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Keep your guard up on your social media accounts

By Ainsley Lawrence, ABA Law Technology Today

In today’s digital age, it seems as though everyone is on social media and that anything goes. From videos of Grandma’s dog to that great party you attended last weekend, it can all be found on social media. It’s just a matter of looking.

Although it seems like it’s the Wild West in cyberspace, you must be careful. More people on social media means more identity theft, more ways potential job prospects can look at you, and even many more ways to be caught should you break the law. Here’s how you can protect yourself on social media, and what is legal and illegal on these platforms.

Protect your identity

What does it mean to have your identity stolen? It usually means that someone has opened bank accounts, obtained credit cards and purchased items using your credit. With about 2.65 billion people around the world using social media, including 400 million people on Facebook every day, prowling these platforms has become very appealing to identity thieves. In a matter of a few short weeks, an identity thief can ruin your reputation, destroy your credit and plunge you into thousands of dollars of debt.

What can you do to protect yourself? It may seem obvious, but do not give out your Social Security number, driver’s license number or credit card numbers. Also don’t share your place of birth and birthdate online. The more information you give identity thieves, the better the chances they will be able to forge identifying documents such as passports. And once they do that, they can cause major trouble.

Make sure to use the privacy settings on your social media accounts. Know who sees your information, and do not “friend” people you don’t know. Be careful about those social media quizzes. Maybe you want to know what comic book character you are, but even the info you give on those quizzes, such as your favorite color or your pet’s name, could be information that a hacker can use to figure out passwords for your credit card accounts or financial institutions.

Protect your reputation

You may use your social media platforms to keep in touch with friends, share news and post cool pictures, but friends and family are not the only ones you’re sharing your information with. More schools and potential employers use social media to screen potential candidates and get to know them prior to making an offer. Nearly 68% of colleges have said they would screen applicants using social media. In addition, in 2018, 70% of job recruiters used social media with 57% claiming the info they found online prevented them from hiring a candidate.

So, what can you do to make sure you place yourself in the best light possible? Make sure you have a professional-looking profile picture, and that the pictures on your accounts are in good taste. Recruiters and employers look for the negative. Do you complain about your current employer, bad-mouth people or are shown in images that others might find inappropriate? Then it shouldn’t be on your account. Also remember, it’s best to avoid things you’ll regret rather than delete them later. Nothing on the internet truly goes away if you have a person who knows what they’re doing trying to find info.

Also avoid fake news on your accounts. Always keep in mind that anyone can post anything online — the juicier the better. Be wary of people’s personal accounts of events; you never know if they are real. Additionally, if a headline is purposely written to evoke an emotional response, that’s a sign something is awry. Be curious and use an investigative mind to research items yourself.

Protect your ethics

Just because you find a cute picture online doesn’t mean that it is legal for you to pass it on. You could be breaking copyright infringement laws. The owner of the image still has legal rights to the picture, and you could be breaking the law by reposting it. This is particularly true on Pinterest, where the owner of a pin can ask for the picture to be removed from your account. If this happens too many times, Pinterest will disable your account.

Another reason to be careful with what you post online is more attorneys are using information found on social media accounts as evidence in court, even if the info has previously been deleted. As mentioned before, nothing on the internet disappears completely. These days, when a crime takes place, one of the first places that attorneys and the police look for evidence is on the defendant’s social media accounts. If what they find is damning, it becomes admissible in court.

Is using such info a breach in the defendant’s confidentiality? Was the information gained ethically? Did the lawyer break confidentiality rules by what’s posted on his or her own social media account? These are issues that are often decided on a case-by-case basis. But the rule of thumb for you should be: If you don’t want the public to know, don’t post it on social media.

Even though social media is the way to stay connected in this digital age and it doesn’t appear to have many rules, that is just a facade. Remember that anyone can see what you post, and you never know who may be watching.

Ainsley Lawrence is a freelance writer in the U.S. Northwest. She is particularly interested in topics related to politics, social justice and workplace issues. When not writing, her free time is spent reading and researching to learn more about her cultural and environmental surroundings.

This column originally appeared here.

ABA Law Technology Today was launched in 2012 to provide the legal community with practical guidance for the present and sensible strategies for the future. LTT brings together practicing lawyers, technology professionals and practice management experts from a wide range of practice settings and backgrounds. LTT is published by the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center.

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