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Have a happy, risk-free Social Media Day!

Parents struggle to keep their children safe on social media, but there are clear steps to take, writes DOROS HADJIZENONOS, regional sales manager at Fortinet for the SADC region.

Thursday, 30 June is World Social Media Day, first launched by Mashable in 2010 to celebrate social media’s impact on global communication and is now marked around the world. Nearly 5-billion people use social media worldwide and over 25-million active social media users in South Africa, staying in touch with each other, sharing their thoughts and creativity, and connecting with people who have the same interests.

While social media brings distant friends and family closer together and allows like-minded people to engage in ways that were never before possible, there are also certain risks involved in participating in global platforms where any stranger can reach you or your children, says Doros Hadjizenonos, Regional Sales Manager at Fortinet

Unfortunately, predators, thieves and con artists gather wherever they will find easy targets, and social media’s popularity makes it an ideal platform for criminals.

Social media users of all ages are falling prey to criminals online. In the US alone, scammers defrauded over 95,000 people of over $770-million last year, according to the country’s Federal Trade Commission. Some of the most profitable are investment scams, romance scams, and online shopping fraud. People aged 18-39 were more than twice as likely as older adults to report losing money to scammers on social media.

Children are even more vulnerable than adults on social media platforms: Most social media platforms restrict usage to over-13s. However, many younger children get around that restriction, and even teens over the age of 13 are vulnerable to the risks online.

The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens carried out by Common Sense Media in the US last year found that 38% of 8-12-year-olds use some form of social media, even though they should technically not be allowed to. In addition, over 6 in 10 tweens and teens watch online videos every day. Another report by the United Kingdom’s communications regulator Ofcom found that most children under 13 had their own profile on at least one social media app or site and that 99% of children aged 3-17 used the internet in 2021.

The research indicates that most children, tweens and teens in the developed world will use social media. Wherever children have access to the internet and social media, they will want to view the entertainment and content all the other kids are watching. But they can face multiple threats online, including catfishing, identity theft, cyberbullying, cyberstalking and online grooming.

Staying safe

All social media platforms offer users a variety of privacy settings. Therefore, the first step to safer social media use is to be careful about what information you share with the world – including what profile picture you post. All social media users – especially children and teens – should also be very cautious about the friends they admit into their social media circles. They need to be made aware of the risk of catfishing – when a person takes information and images, typically from other people, and uses them to create a new identity for themselves – such as an age-appropriate friend.

For young social media users, trusted adults form the first line of protection. Encourage your family, friends and children to keep their personal details private and explain why they should not share their real names, addresses, phone numbers, school details, or any other personally identifiable information (PII) to strangers online.

Clear rules on cautious internet use, the use of safe search tools and parental controls, and reserves the right to check on children’s internet use occasionally can also help keep them safer online. Open channels of communication are crucial – children need to understand why their online activities are restricted or monitored, and they should also feel comfortable asking a trusted adult for advice about any suspicious or upsetting online encounters. It also helps address the growing risk children and teens face of developing self-esteem issues over impossibly perfect standards and lifestyles they see online.

Every social media user should be vigilant about the risks of phishing and be sceptical when someone reaches out to you uninvited via a social media platform or email. It is crucial that everyone in your household be aware of common threats. Make it clear that no one should click on a suspect link, or open or download suspicious attachments. It is also important to ensure your home network and device security are up to date, and that every member of the family uses strong passwords that will not be easy to guess.

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