Alex McCready, Head of Reputation and Privacy at Vardags
Many parents worry about the amount of time their children are spending online.
The Education Policy Institute has recently found that British teenagers are some of the most ‘extreme internet users’, which they defined as using the internet for more than 6 hours a day, and that 37.3% of 15 year-olds can be classed as such.
It is encouraging to see there has been a lot of commentary and debate about how to keep children safe online and what role should be played by social media platforms. But what about the risks your children pose to your reputation, privacy and business interests?
If you run a business or are eminent in your profession, you should be particularly cautious of your online profile.
For example, a company owner has recently gone on a luxury family holiday following a period where a flurry of redundancies was made in their company. One of his children posted images of the family, including that company owner, enjoying their extravagant holiday. If the child’s social media account is public or has friends or followers connected to employees and recently made ex-employees, these photos are all too easily seen and shared. These photos can easily affect the viewer’s opinion of the company and, most pertinently, the owner. The result is damage to the company owner’s reputation.
You should always bear in mind how online information about your personal life can impact your professional reputation and vice versa.
Even if you are not well known, if you have a particularly striking or unusual surname, it will be easier to locate your social media profiles. If your name is Smith or Jones, then this is perhaps less of a concern. If you have an uncommon name, it is recommended to avoid using your full name on social media including your Twitter handle or Instagram tag, to ensure you are found less easily online. For instance, it is common to substitute one’s surname with a middle name or abbreviate your name to make it harder for your profile to be identified.
You should also be aware of what information you and your children include about you in your social media profiles; your home town, home address and contact details should not be publically available as someone could easily find these details and contact you or your family.
Children are more readily disclosing their contemporaneous location by ‘checking in’ and adding geotags to a post or ‘story’. Before long, hundreds of people, who have seen that post, are aware of where you and/or your children are. For publically known individuals, this is an easy way for fans or journalists to find that person and rush to that location.
Similarly, tagging a location in an image of a past event results in others knowing your recent whereabouts, your connections or places you frequently visit.
Children and family members of known individuals can also be targeted online to obtain information about a person’s location. Posting your location is therefore a clear security risk; not only to the family member who provided that information, but also to the person targeted.
During divorce proceedings, it is increasingly common for one party to attempt to obtain information about the other side through their children’s social media accounts. Too often children are unaware of the repercussions of sharing personal information about other people, such as their parents.
It has also been discovered that some parents have used their skype contact sessions with their children to spy on their ex-partner and family home. Such unfettered access to other people’s personal lives was not so easily attainable before the rise of social media.
What can you do to protect yourself and your family?
Education: It is vital that your children are aware of the importance of not sharing personal or private details about themselves or their family when posting online. Having an honest conversation about the long lasting impact an ill-judged comment posted on social media can have both for them in the future and for their family will assist your children in being more mindful of their social media usage and the information they share online.
Privacy Settings: Ensure your children’s privacy settings are at their highest. For example:
- Make their ‘Friends’ list private;
- Keep photos private;
- Don’t include home address or mobile number or other identifying information on your profile; and
- If an account has recently been set to private, also check that previous posts such as status updates or photos are not still public.
Know your friends and followers: Check through your friends and followers and remove any contacts you do not know personally. Your children should do the same. An audit of this kind can be done regularly to maintain your families’ online security.
Stick to the age limits: Social media sites have age restrictions: Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter require users to be aged 13 and for WhatsApp it is 16. These age restrictions enforce the fact that social media is not suitable for younger users. Worryingly, Ofcom reported in late 2017 the extent that these age restrictions are repeatedly circumvented finding that over half (51%) of 12 year-olds have a profile on a social media site with the most common being Facebook and Snapchat.
Keep your location private: Avoid tagging locations. If this information is public, it is easy to track someone’s lifestyle and movements.