Online forums, messaging, and social media sites are great for socialising with friends and family, sharing photos and videos, and expressing yourself and being creative.

Unfortunately there are people who use social media to:

  • embarrass, harass or attack others
  • steal personal information and identities.

To get the most out of social media you sometimes need to provide personal information. However, it's important to be careful about what information you put online and who you allow to see it.

Remember: social media sites allow you to control the types of information you share online and how you interact with others.

Using social media safely

Here are some steps to help protect you when using social network sites.

  • Read and understand social networking privacy settings, be aware of what you share and who you are sharing it with.
  • Ensure you read and understand any terms and conditions before accepting and agreeing to them.
  • Protect your accounts with strong passwords.
  • Think before you post—people other than your friends and family may see what you post online.
  • Think before you click—remember that it can be difficult or impossible to remove posted photos or information after the event.
  • Be careful posting information that could compromise your or others the security, such as:
    • date of birth
    • address
    • information about your daily routine
    • holiday plans
    • your children's schools.
  • Consider turning off geolocation features in social networking apps.
  • Don't post inappropriate photos of you or your family and friends, and always seek permission before posting a picture of someone else.
  • Never click on suspicious links, even if they are from your friends, as their social media account may have been hacked.
  • Be wary of strangers as people are not always who they say they are.
  • Never access social networking by clicking a link in an email or other website.
  • Don't use social networking sites that do not offer any privacy settings or that enable users to contact each other anonymously.

Check the site's privacy policy

Read the website's privacy policy before you sign up.

Legitimate social networking sites will have a privacy statement that tells you how they collect and use your information and when and how they might disclose this information either through the website or to third parties.

  • Some sites may share your information, such as email addresses or user preferences, with third party businesses, that may send you spam.
  • Locate the sites' policies for handling referrals to make sure that you do not accidentally sign your friends up for spam.
  • Privacy policies can change. In many cases by continuing to access or use the services after those changes become effective, you agree to be bound by the revised privacy policy. You should regularly review privacy policies and review how much information you reveal in your profile.
  • If you use applications or sign up for games inside the website, remember to read the individual privacy policy. Do not assume that they will have the same policy as the parent website.

Some online games' privacy policies specifically state that they can use your and your friends' information in whatever way they like if linked to your social media accounts.

Be careful how much personal information you share online

Once information is online, it is difficult to remove it completely. Even if you remove information from your profile, saved or cached versions may still exist on other computers.

  • Adjust your privacy settings to control the amount and type of information you share, and who can see what parts.
  • The photos, comments and messages that you share could be seen by anyone, and are not always removable if you change your mind.
  • Do not post information that would make you or your family vulnerable (for example your date of birth, address, information about your daily routine or holiday plans). This information can be used by criminals to commit identity theft, or to stalk and harass you.

Be careful when sharing your opinion online

Be careful about what you say about others online. Posting something rude, offensive or derogatory about another person or business in a public forum can have consequences. Once you post a comment it can be difficult to remove all record of it. Comments you make may be used as legal evidence.

Many companies check to see if job applicants have online profiles. Be aware that the photos and information you share with your friends may not be what you want a prospective employer to see. 

Be wary of strangers

Remember people are not always who they say they are online.

  • If you are 'friends' with people you do not know, be careful about the amount of information that you reveal and take care if choosing to meet them in person.
  • Use your social networking site's privacy settings to limit their access to your information.

Watch out for phishing emails

Emails pretending to be friend requests from social networking sites try to direct people to fake versions of these websites. These fake websites may contain malicious software that could steal your personal information and infect your computer.

Protect yourself from phishing emails

  • Before you click on a link in an email, hover over the link and check the destination URL address. Is it going where you expect it to?
  • Always type your social networking website address into your browser or access it through a trusted app on your phone.

Protect your accounts with strong, unique passwords

Your profile in social networking sites often include information that could be used to steal your identity (for example open a bank account or credit card in your name), such as your date of birth, your phone number and your work and study history.

Never use the same password that you use for your email account. This reduces the chances of a hacker logging in to your account.

Have a different password for each social networking site so that if one password is stolen, not all of your accounts will be at risk.

Where to get help

Issue Contact
Fraudulent use of your identity
  • Your social networking service provider
  • Your local police
  • ACORN.
Bullying or harassment
Sexual exploitation or other criminal activity
  • your local Police
  • CrimeStoppers: 1800 333 000.
Information about socialising online Easy guide to socialising online.

A full list of useful contacts can be found on the Contact us page.

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