Safe Social Media Use

Safe Social Media Use

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  1. Learners will be able to secure their social media accounts and protect their privacy
  2. Learners will be able to evaluate and improve their relationship with social media
  3. Learners will be able to choose behaviors that protect themselves and others online

Over 70% of Americans are on social media. These platforms offer spaces to share interests and stay in touch with friends and family, but they also present their share of problems.

Luckily, those problems don’t have to ruin your social media experience. With a bit of planning, you can secure your information, maximize your enjoyment, and protect yourself and others from negative online experiences. This course will guide you through simple steps to get what you want from social media.

Account and Password Safety

The first step toward getting the social media experience you want is taking control of your account; no one else should be able to adjust your preferences, decide what you see on your feed, or access your private information. Creating a secure password and using Two-Factor Authentication make it easy to stay in charge of your account.

Password Guidance

The safest passwords are difficult to guess or hack, easy to remember, and only used for one account. Repeating passwords across multiple accounts is convenient to remember but can put you at risk. You could lose control of data from several different sites or apps at once, so it’s important to protect your information and accounts with strong passwords. One way to create secure, memorable passwords is to use a series of three to four random words with a number and symbol mixed in. A collection of unrelated, uncommon words is difficult to guess and long enough that hacking programs can’t easily find the sequence by trying every combination. Take the example below.


This password is

  • Impossible to guess
  • Long and uses a mix of characters
  • Strange enough that it’s memorable
  • Difficult to hack


Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) is an extra layer of protection that can keep your accounts secure. 2FA requires two codes to enter an account. The first is your password. The second is usually a temporary code created by the organization in charge of the website that is texted to your phone or sent to your email account. This means that even if a criminal obtains your password, they also need your phone or email account to access your information. It also means you receive a notification when anyone tries to sign into your account, which makes it easy for you to report problems when they happen.

Two-Factor Authentication Graphic
You should know that text messaging isn’t always secure, either. Authentication apps like Google Authentication can provide extra security for your sign-in information.

2FA is a form of Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA), so you may sometimes see it called by that name. To learn more about MFA, check out this video from the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

Protect Your Privacy

Social media is a great place to share your thoughts, memories, and achievements, but when you do, you give up some control over your personal information. A lot of the time, this isn’t an issue. Sometimes, though, messages, pictures, or videos can spread to people outside of your network or be saved by others even after you delete them. Once something’s online, there’s no guarantee that it will stay as private as you want, but you can take steps to contain your content in groups you trust.


It’s easy to ignore the settings on your accounts until something goes wrong, but the right settings can give you much more control over your content and experience online. Taking charge of your privacy makes you less vulnerable to scammers, bot accounts, and hackers. The same settings that keep you safe also let you change the audience for your content as much as you need. After all, the memories you share with friends aren’t always the kind you want to share with family or coworkers. As you read through the information below, think about what privacy settings best fit the way you use social media.

Most privacy settings online come down to a few simple choices:

  1. Who will be able to see your posts and content? These choices affect the audience for your account, such as only friends, friends of friends, or anyone.
  2. How will others be able to interact with you? These choices affect whether others can find your account, message you, or comment on your posts.
  3. What information will you give to advertisers? These choices affect how much of your data the platform can sell to other companies. When you accept “Personalized ads,” you’re letting companies track what you search, like, and follow, which is useful for them but not for you. Whenever possible, turn off personalized ads to protect your privacy.

The right privacy choices will vary from person to person, but you can explore the slideshow and link below to choose the right settings for you.

End Oversharing

Social media is about sharing, but sometimes oversharing can rob you and your loved ones of the privacy you deserve. You can learn about what oversharing looks like below.

Geotagging/Location Information Activating location services on your favorite apps can make your life more difficult without giving you any benefits in return. Sharing your location makes it easy for others to know your schedule and when you are away from home, which is dangerous information in the wrong hands. Unless you're using a directions app, you should leave location services turned off on your accounts. If you’re very excited to post about a trip or a new place you’ve visited, wait until you’ve returned home to share it.

Images and Video You express yourself through the photos and videos you share online, but your content may tell others more than you realize. It’s important to be extra-protective of images or videos containing the following:

  • Children Young children can’t make their own decisions about what they want to share or keep private, so you should do your best to avoid sharing pictures or videos of them, particularly if you don’t have their parents’ permission.
  • Personal Conflicts Everyone gets frustrated with other people from time to time. But while it feels good to vent online, bringing your arguments to social media will often make them worse. Avoid unnecessary stress by leaving those feelings offline.
  • Details About Your Life Unless your privacy settings are very strict, sharing images or videos that show where you live, work, or go to school is a bad idea. Always check your content (including the background!) for these details before sharing them.

Complete the activity below to identify what content is safe to share and what should stay private.

Super Simple Safety

Starting new social media habits can be challenging, especially if those changes complicate your routine. The suggestions below, on the other hand, are easy, effective ways to keep your data private.

Secure WiFi Networks While it’s tempting to use free WiFi networks when they’re available, you shouldn’t trust them with your data. When using WiFi, only use private, secured networks. It's easy for hackers to access your information if you're both on the same network. The fewer people using the network, the safer your accounts will be.

Web Browsers vs. Apps Plenty of your favorite social media platforms have apps, but those apps often access extra information from your devices. You can keep more of your data private when you connect to social media on web browsers like Safari, Firefox, or Chrome.

HTTPS While using web browsers, ALWAYS look for the letters “HTTPS” at the beginning of the web address. If you don’t see these letters (especially the S), do not log in or share your personal information.

Mental Health Supports

Effects of Social Media on Mental Health

For some, social media habits do more harm than good. According to an American Psychological Association article, seeking social media acceptance has been linked to common mental health problems like depression, anxiety, and self-esteem issues. Claude Mellins, a professor of medical psychology at Columbia University, also points out that bullying and exclusion on social media can harm users' mental well-being, particularly among girls and members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Despite these associations with negative health effects, a recent Harvard study suggests this doesn’t need to be the case. When social media users focus on connecting with others and exploring their interests, they report better social well-being, mental health, and overall health. In other words, using social media isn’t a problem, but how people use social media can be.

Complete the activity below to think about your social media use and find areas that you may want to improve.

Supporting Your Mental Health

Your choices have a huge impact on what you get out of social media. Carefully review the suggestions below, then use the graphic organizer to make a plan that supports your mental health while online.

Limit Screen Time There’s no magic way to figure out the “right” amount of time: realistic limits will look different for everyone. You can start setting reasonable limits by checking in daily and asking whether you’re happy with how you used your online time. Taking breaks is healthy; a UNC study found that frequently checking social media (15 or more times a day) may cause users to become more sensitive to comments and criticism online.

Browse Mindfully Mindfulness means being thoughtful and aware of your actions. When you browse social media, remind yourself not to compete with or compare yourself to others online. These comparisons are usually unrealistic: most people only post the highlights of their lives, not the whole experience. Be mindful that the screen can’t tell you the entire story.

Choose Positive Experiences Social media has all kinds of content. Many posts and accounts are fun and inspirational, while others are stressful and upsetting. It’s easy to get stuck thinking about the negative news and pictures you see, which takes the fun out of social media. To limit those worries, take the time to unfollow or block accounts that make you unhappy and focus on interactions that make you feel better. For example, spend time messaging friends or learning about your other interests instead of watching videos that make you feel down.

Health Social Media Plan Graphic

Cyberbullying and Online Harassment

TRIGGER WARNING: This section of the course discusses suicide, self-harm, and harassment.

According to a 2021 Pew Research poll, 41% of respondents had experienced online harassment (defined as offensive name-calling or purposeful embarrassment), and 25% had experienced severe online harassment (defined as sexual harassment, stalking, physical threats, or harassment over extended periods). 75% of respondents said that the most recent online harassment they faced came from social media. These interactions are especially harmful to victims but can cause problems for the harassers and everyone who sees them.

Consequences for Victims

Online harassment is sadly common, but that doesn’t mean that you should have to put up with it. Negative experiences online can do a lot of damage, and accepting harassment puts victims in danger. Consider the examples below.

Effects of Bullying/Harassment Bullying and harassment online can be extremely upsetting, especially for young adults. Cyberbullying is linked to depression, lower self-esteem, and self-harm. There are even more frightening effects, too: A National Institute of Health study found that victims are four times as likely to experience suicidal thoughts.

Challenges of Ignoring/Disconnecting Cyberbullying and online harassment are real problems, and ignoring them or deleting your account is rarely a practical solution. Harassment can cause problems even if you don’t see it, as those around you still see the hurtful content. Closing an account also makes connecting to supportive friends and family more difficult.

Consequences for Offenders

Given how serious the consequences of online harassment are for victims, it’s no wonder that organizations take the issue seriously for offenders. Punishments for online harassment can range from inconveniences to serious legal charges. The examples below cover some of the outcomes that harassers can face.

Suspension/Account Bans Harassment and cyberbullying are against the terms of use for all major social media platforms. Any accounts that break these rules can be locked or shut down permanently.

Loss of Opportunities/Employment In recent years, universities have begun rejecting applicants from admission for cyberbullying. There has also been a rise in employers firing employees for harassing others online, even if the victims aren’t coworkers.

Legal Consequences Laws vary from state to state, but the general measure of harassment is whether it causes severe distress or fear in a victim. All around the country, harassers can face criminal charges and civil lawsuits, which can result in fines and restraining orders.

To learn more about the harassment and cyberbullying laws in your area, you can use the interactive map linked below.

Consequences for Bystanders

As Americans spend more time online, the expectations and guidelines change. Some of those changes are beginning to affect those who witness bullying or passively participate. Even if you’ve never been directly harassed online or bullied others, you can experience practical, emotional, and disciplinary problems. Below are just a few examples of these problems.

Banned Groups/Closed Spaces When harassment takes over sharing spaces online, they can be closed down. When that happens, everyone, not just the offenders, loses the chance to connect and communicate. This can affect entire online communities, like Discords and Subreddits, but addressing harassment early on can help prevent these situations.

Mental Health Effects Cyberbullying and online harassment affect everyone who sees them. Research by found that young social media users who witness cyberbullying are more likely to experience depression and anxiety than those who don’t.

Disciplinary Action While schools and parents often think cyberbullying is just sending harmful messages or posting threats where a victim will see them, it can take other forms. A 2021 court case, Doe v. Hopkinton, discussed that very idea. In this case, students were punished for bullying a teammate by making negative comments and recording embarrassing videos of him without his permission. These comments and videos were sent in a private group chat (the teammate was not a member) and never posted publicly. The judge ruled that group members who don’t directly bully a target can still be punished if their comments encourage bullying. That means that comments made in private groups can still lead to punishment for cyberbullying and harassment if they are part of a pattern of bullying that causes emotional harm. In this case, even “bystanders” faced consequences that could have been avoided by reporting the bullying.

Guidelines for Cyberbullying/Online Harassment

Keeping harassment off your social media platform improves everyone’s experience, and everyone can help. Read the guidelines below to know what you can do (and avoid doing) to keep your web spaces pleasant places to be.

Reporting Abuse Most social media platforms have systems to report inappropriate content. When you see abuse online, start by collecting evidence of the post, comment, or message. One of the best ways to do this is to take pictures of the content. Once you have evidence of the harassment, report it to the social media platform. Providing proof will make it easier for the platform to take action against harassers and can be used by law enforcement in the case of extreme issues like threats of violence and sexual harassment.

Content reporting isn’t a perfect system, but it is necessary. Ignoring harmful material lets it spread, but taking action can shut down accounts and messages that make others feel unhappy or unsafe.

Thinking Before Sharing You can also help prevent online harassment by choosing not to participate. Before you post, comment, or share online, ask one simple question: Is this meant to make someone feel negative or uncomfortable? If the answer is yes, close out of the site or app and step away. Remember that your social media experience should focus on enjoying yourself, not making others miserable.


Short Answer Response

Set two goals to improve how you interact with social media. Why did you choose these goals? How will you achieve them?

Social media safety isn’t about keeping yourself safe from social media. It’s about protecting your privacy, your well-being, and the valuable things you find on social media: the connections, interests, and memories that make your experience enjoyable. Help keep your online spaces safe by securing your accounts, making healthy choices, and reporting serious issues on your social networks. Once you do, you’ll find a lot more fun and a lot less hassle online.

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