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5 things young people can do to help protect themselves online

5 things young people can co to protect themselves online

With most of us spending even more time each day online – protecting yourself online has become as important as it is offline.  But when it comes to safety we still take risks and a lot of the time don’t take it seriously enough. 

For example, a recent report by DCU (Dublin City University) on the Yubo app has indicated that 15 year olds are the age group most unconcerned about privacy and most likely to share their private details in lieu of gaining followers.  Within our work speaking to young people, (some 50,000 students each year) we regularly hear reports when things go wrong. 

So here are 5 things young people can do to protect themselves online

In the online world just like the offline world not everybody is who they say they are.  To put this in context, according to Facebook’s Community Standards Enforcement Report (May 2018) ‘In 2018, we disabled 800 million fake accounts, up from 583 million in 2018’. 

Think Critically

Fake accounts or fake profiles have become part of everyday life across all social media platforms. It’s important to THINK before accepting requests.  In many cases, offenders use social media platforms and apps to attempt to get you to send sexual photos or videos. These individuals’ will use various techniques trying to be your friend and make you feel special. They may also try and lure you into sexualised conversations and/or performing sexual acts online.

Once they have your sexual photos or videos they’ll then save them and may demand more, or ask you for money, threatening to post the images on the internet or share them with your friends, family or even with your whole school if you don’t do as they say. They can be very clever and manipulative, making you feel guilty and ashamed about what has happened to stop you from getting help.

If this happens to you –  it is a crime called online sexual coercion and extortion. Tell a friend or trusted adult and report it to the police.  T

Think about what you are revealing on Social Media

When it comes to social media platforms how much sharing is too much?  Have you ever asked yourself that question? Is what you are sharing on social media putting your privacy at risk?   When you’re signing up for a new social media account or an app think carefully about the information which the platform or app is asking you for.  Once you have your account set up think about the information you’re sharing publically – even if you have your privacy settings enabled.

Remember privacy settings only go so far.  Think Critically as to what information you feel comfortable with sharing. It does no harm to regularly check and tweak your privacy settings as they will regularly change.

Don’t re-use Passwords

‘Almost 100 passwords are stolen every second, which works out to over 8 million stolen per day’ according to  According to Cybersecurity Ventures Thycotic report, ‘The World Will Need to Protect 300 Billion Passwords by 2020’.  What’s even more interesting is that according to research, Cyclonis found that ‘83% of users surveyed use the same password for multiple sites’.  You know who you are.

Now I know what you’re going to say ‘But Wayne –  I use tons of different sites. How can I possibly remember each and every password?  Should I write them down in a note book? No! Should I create an excel document and save them? Definitely not!!

Well, I mean you could – but both of those suggestions don’t seem very secure.  Here’s a simple solution. Use a Password Manager – I use one to manage all of my mine.  Whenever I need a password for a website, social media platform or app I generate a unique password for each one which is safely stored within my password manager vault. This process has helped me get into the habit of not reusing passwords or having to worry about remembering all of the passwords I need on a regular basis. 

Set up 2 Step verification

This one is so simple – yet over 90% of young people I speak to in Schools and Colleges have either never heard of it or don’t have it enabled.  Most, if not all of the social media accounts you use and many of your favourite apps all have 2 step verification or 2 factor authentication.  (I delivered a recent talk ‘UP YOUR GAME ONLINE’ for student rugby teams for Tommy Boe and Louis Ludik for Rugby Rising in a college in a Dublin.  Tommy was the only one in the audience with 2 Step Verification!). Be like Tommy J. 

With the rise in cybercrime 2 factor authentication is essential across all of your online accounts.  Just as important as not reusing passwords it’s important to get into the habit of enabling 2 step authentication whenever you sign up for an account.  In simple terms it adds a second layer of security to your account. In a lot of cases all someone would need to gain access to your account would be your username and password. 

With 2 factor authentication enabled they would require another piece of information in order to gain access to your account, this could be a 6-digit confirmation code send via SMS to your device.

Think about your Online Reputation both now and in the future

Let’s face it. If you’re on Instagram, Twitter, Twitch, YouTube, Snapchat, Facebook, Reddit etc, among others then you have an online reputation you need to manage and protect.

Think about what might appear if a future employer was to carry out a search on Google. Or perhaps Google images. What would they find? Would it be a true and best reflection of who you are?

Search engines such as Google can expose a lot of content you’ve posted in the past – perhaps when you were younger and a lot less mature than you are now.   So keep it as clean as you can.

You have a digital footprint. Not thinking about what you are posting and sharing online could jeopardise a future career or job opportunity.  A 2017 CareerBuilder study found that approximately 70% of employers use social media as a screening method.  I’d say that’s up to around 100% now. It’ud be silly for them not to.

On the plus side, this also provides an opportunity to build a reputation online which influences future hiring managers and companies. Posting regular content on subjects you’re passionate about or showcasing skills you’ve developed are all great ways to actively build an online reputation. One you’ll be happy for a future employer to take an interest in.

If you’ve not already set one up, create and populate a LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn is a professional network and more often than not is normally the first thing which shows up in Google when someone searches your name.  So keep it updated with relevant information such as;

  • Education
  • Work experience
  • Internships
  • Qualifications
  • Volunteer experience.

Your Online Reputation is currency.  It could make or break your future career hopes and life opportunities. 

Look after it, take it seriously and give yourself the best chance.  It’s a competitive world of work out there. If you want to know more ways to protect and manage your Online Reputation & how to use Social Media to get ahead in your Career pick up a copy of my book. Click Here

Take care online


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Wayne Denner shares his knowledge & expertise on leading tech industry blog.

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