This blog is my fifth in series on digital privacy and security.  Earlier, I address such topics as 1) anti-virus protections, 2) online nuisances, 3) the risks of online financial scamsand 4) unauthorized access to your communications accounts.  In this blog we will discuss how some attacks can be successful without your direct cooperation – by your use of social network sites.  When driven by greed, they tend to be more automated and scattershot than the social engineering type.  When these attacks originate from friends and acquaintances, they are usually bullying or hurtful allegations.

  • Unflattering Allegations, Slurs, Bullying.   These attacks range from criticism of appearance or character, to back-and-forth taunts that can escalate into violence and sometimes suicide.  In recent polling of teens and twenty-somethings, 55% of respondents reported that they witnessed friends being mean to each other or acquaintances by using slurs to describe race, weight, sexual orientation, and promiscuity.  They say that most slurs are an attempt to be humorous or “cool,” but that about one-quarter of the remarks erupt from a well of hateful feelings toward some group.  Four in ten say it’s hurtful when aimed at others, but six in ten say it’s hurtful when aimed at “me.”  Seventy-one percent say they are more likely to use slurs in online communications than in person.  Social media are trying to teach civility but they face some slow learners.  Free speech rights are seen as insulating social media from liability in many cases.  Since rowdy and crude behavior can be expected in some circles of social media, you need to be careful about whom to converse with, whether it’s done in public or private, and when to draw the line at unacceptable language.
  • Unwanted Associations. Some have been annoyed by having another party associate their name with certain photographs.  Facebook has improved the way it supports identifying people in photographic “tags” by giving the tagged person the ability to block connecting that tag to their personal profile.  There are other ways to avoid association with photographs and chronic taggers.  Once a photo is posted to the web, it’s almost impossible to pull it back, so share photos very carefully assuming they’ll quickly go public.
  • Digital marketers.  There is a class of digital merchants who pursue lawful promotional activity that ranges from useful to annoying to strongly offensive.  Their tactics include “hanging out” at social media sites, inserting adverts anywhere they can, sending high volumes of spam, and dropping cookies on your computer.
  • Marketers in Social Media:  Legitimate digital marketers want to create favorable awareness and sales of their wares.  In Facebook, there’s a column for them called “Sponsored.”  They understand that being “liked” or “friended” establishes them as more trustworthy – a step along the path to sales.  There are experts who help marketers use social media.  When you decide to “friend” a marketer or product, you’ll be drawing your friends’ attention to the merchant/product’s promotional postings – as if they were from human friends.  “Friending” Lady Gaga will get you a torrent of notes from her.  Even an old movie such as Pulp Fiction sends it’s “friends” too many promotional notes.  Be careful what you friend.

Look for our next blog on Big Brother – how “protecting the public” can lead to losing your freedoms.

Alan Daley is a retired businessman living in Florida.  He follows public policy from the consumer’s perspective.