Woman, Are You Safe on Social Media?

There is no disputing the fact that, in general, women face more dangers than men. Even in today’s civilized urban world, the average woman is vulnerable to more problematic situations than her male counterpart and these situations can have much more dire consequences for her than for him.

Information has always been considered sacrosanct, sensitive and a precious commodity to be shared only on a need-to-know basis. The advent of social media has broken down most of those norms and turned them on their head. But problematic situations and troublesome situations are still possible so a smart woman should take adequate precautions.

Let’s take a look at how a woman can be both an active and safe user of the social media.

Social Networking

Social networking has removed the social barriers that existed between strangers. While the advantages of this cannot be denied, this means that a fundamental layer of protection that a woman had, has been dropped. Today it is perfectly permissible for a total stranger to strike up a conversation with a woman. His behavior will not be labeled as creepy if he accesses her personal information. And if he expresses an open curiosity about her whereabouts, her personal choices & taste, it will be seen as annoying at worst. This means that a woman does not have social support in any of these situations, should she find them intrusive. It is a good idea for a woman to be extra cautious when it comes to the social networks.

Facebook is riddled with privacy settings. But the service has consistently added on so many features and gone through so many transitions that you may not be as safe as you think. Do test the privacy and security settings periodically. One way is to have an alternate identity, which you can use to test what information is visible at various levels (everyone, friends of friends, select lists etc).

LinkedIn being a professional network may seem safer than the others. However it is still a network of people, some of whom may not be trustworthy.  Don’t accept requests from people who have no professional dealings with you. Making friends is for Facebook and the other personal networks, not LinkedIn.

I’m not a big fan of Foursquare, based as it is on that vital aspect of personal information – where you are. However if you must use the service, consider every update and whether you can afford to broadcast to the world where you are. Crowded places or public spaces like malls, shops and restaurants are probably safe enough. Still, keep in mind that anyone can track your regular hangouts and usual routes if they watch you closely enough.

Blogging

Lurkers are an aspect of social media that bloggers have to face. It can be unnerving not knowing who is reading, watching and listening to you. If you are a woman, don’t disregard that apprehension but use it to stay watchful of the content that you post.

If you are a personal blogger, it can be hard to draw the line between writing on your blog and putting yourself in danger because of too much information. If you have strong or unconventional opinions, anticipate negative responses, even harassment. You don’t need to gag yourself but instead, can make the medium work for you. Choose a handle, share minimal information like a short form or acronym of the name.

While tweeting, be mindful of your tweets. Once these are RTed, you have no control over them anymore and we all know just how easy it is to RT. If you must share personal information, send direct messages (DMs) instead of public tweets. Private tweets are a deceptive feature since your tweets can still be RTed outside your permitted circle. If you are on Twitter, be mindful or don’t tweet.

Personal Information

The flipside of the Information Age is how it has made the broadcasting of personal information a casual thing. A decade ago, it would have been unthinkable to share a person’s phone number without their consent. But today, since every call center and social network has access to a person’s contact details, the sanctity of this information has been lost. As a result, the average social media user may pass on the contact details of someone he knows, without a thought given to how that information could be misused, validating the recipient or how the owner of that information feels.

I’ve been an active user of the social media since its inception but I’m very careful about my contact details. Even so, there have been several instances over the years, of people sharing details of my identity and contact information on an open forum without consideration. And information once shared, cannot be recalled. The only way to deal with this is to be prudent right from the start about the kind of information that you share. Casual associates and acquaintances do not need to know your address. If you find your phone number has been shared on an open network, ask the recipient to take it down. And also assume that what is a personal piece of information has now been exposed to the general public.

Some basic Dos & Don’ts:

  • Give out your phone number sparingly. If possible, don’t list it on your visiting card. It’s really hard to change a phone number if you find yourself in an extreme situation.
  • If you must share one piece of contact information, choose an email address over a phone number. You can block unwanted emails but doing that on the phone is a lot harder.
  • When possible, consider using a contact form instead of giving out an email address.

Images

Visual content is the next step in the evolution of social media, whether it is photo-blogging or image curation or pictorial apps. A woman needs to be extra careful about this aspect of personal information. Here are some quick tips on images: 

  • Group pictures are safer than individual ones.
  • Unconventional face angles are not just a vanity thing. They may be indicative of a woman who wants to protect her identity while not restricting access.
  • Bold, provocative poses & settings are a bad idea, even within a closed group on a social network. Remember these can be shared, and now passed around on Pinterest.
  • Low resolution images might be a safer bet for blogging, especially if your purpose is not to showcase photographs but simply use them as illustrations.
  • Periodically check your friends online albums, especially after parties & events, for pictures of you. After all, these are accessible to people outside your circle.
  • Routinely ego-surf the internet to see what websites and pictures turn up against your name.

By its very nature, social media means more information leads to more networking power. The key is to find the balance between security and access. Social Media comes with its version of the dangers to women. However it is a tool (or a set of tools) and used smartly, it can be worked not just efficiently but to your advantage as well.

Image Courtesy: cliff1066 and Also, bears
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