Summer has just begun to fade into fall and we all know what that means: it’s back to school season. For college freshmen, you’re about to embark on some of the most exciting, rewarding, and fun years of your life.
For older students, you’re returning to your life of rigorous study and raucous socializing. Regardless of what year of college you’re heading off to, it’s likely that you’re navigating friendships, dating, networking, and finding social events through one or more social media platforms.
And, social media platforms are incredibly popular among younger adults ages 18-24. According research from the Pew Research Center, 78 percent of folks in this age bracket use Snapchat and 71 percent use Twitter, numbers that far outrank folks in other age groups.
Additionally, an astounding 94 percent of these young adults use YouTube and 80 percent are on Facebook, the only social media platform that folks ages 25-49 use in similar numbers. It’s clear from these statistics that social media is a major part of everyday life for the average college student.
Still, while social media use is incredibly among young adults, many college students are not aware of the difficulties that social media platforms present when it comes to keeping sensitive information private, maintaining a good public image, and generally keeping yourself and your identity safe.
A 2018 report from The Harris Poll found that as many as 60 million Americans have experienced identity theft, while nearly half of all Americans expect to be the victim of identity theft at some point in the upcoming years.
Keeping yourself safe involves having the right knowledge and foresight to protect yourself. That’s why we’ve put together this list of 18 of our best tips for college students to stay safe and have a blast throughout your college years. Here’s what you’ll get in this guide:
- 5 great ideas for managing your privacy settings and accounts on social media
- 7 of our best tips for using social media safely and wisely
- 6 general suggestions for using the internet and your devices intelligently
Social media privacy & account security for college students
When it comes to your social media accounts, it’s important to be aware of how you can adjust your privacy settings, passwords, and other security features in order to protect yourself. These are some great tips:
Make sure you understand your privacy settings
Each social media outlet has different options for your to keep your information private, so you’ll want to go through and figure out your settings on each. These are a few basic tips to help you manage your privacy on four major social media sites:
- Facebook. On the top bar of your Facebook page you’ll see a downward-facing arrow all the way to the right. When you click on that you’ll find a Settings option and under that you can bring up your privacy settings. The best option is to set your posts to “Friends” so only your friends will see things you put on your timeline.
You’ll also be able to opt out of showing up on search engines, manage who can find you based on your phone number and email address, and set it so that you review all posts that you’re tagged in before they’re made public.
- Instagram. Head to your Instagram homepage and click on the gear icon where you’ll find your settings. Scroll down to find the privacy settings.
If you set your account to private, folks will only be able to follow you if you approve them. You can also block people, control who can comment on your posts, and set up photo tagging so you have to approve each tagged photo before it goes on your profile.
- Twitter. Click on the icon with your photo on it to the far right on the menu bar. From there you can scroll down to find the Settings and Privacy tab. In the menu on the left side you’ll find a Privacy and Safety tab and once you click on that there’ll be a bunch of options for privacy settings.
You can make your tweets private, set up or turn off geotagging on your posts, control who can tag you in photos, and mute or block accounts.
- Snapchat. Go to your homepage and click on the red gear icon on the upper-right side. From there you’ll wind up on the Settings menu where you can set up who can view your stories, who can contact you, and who can see your profile under the Quick Add function.
The great thing about Snapchat is, of course, that your photos and videos disappear, but it’s important to still be careful about what you post on there.
Set up two-factor authentication on all of your profiles
Two-factor authentication uses not only your password to give you access to your account, but also some other piece of information that only you could have. Typically this means that you’ll be sent a code either to your phone or your email that you’ll need to use to get into your account. Doing this makes it much more difficult for someone to hack your account as they’d need to have your email address or your physical phone on them in order to access your information.
You can also get an app like Duo which allows you to set up two-factor authentication on your cloud and your apps or even get a unique passcode each time you log into your social media accounts.
Related: create unique, complex passwords for all of your accounts
You might think that your birthday and your dog’s name is a good password because it’s easy to remember. However, you’d be surprised by how easily someone can guess a simple password with just a little bit of information on you.
It’s important to create a unique password for each account and to make it complex by including a random variety of upper- and lowercase letters, symbols, and numbers. You can try using a random password generator to create a strong code for you. It’s also smart to get a secure, encrypted password manager like Dashlane, Lastpass, Keepass, or 1Password.
Set up a password and a lock code for your phone, laptop, tablet, and other devices
Sure, it might be annoying to have to plug in a password every time you want to get into your phone, laptop, or other device. But, consider how easy it would be for someone to grab your device and get access to your photos, passwords, and browser history without you even noticing.
As with all other passwords, make sure to create a unique, complex pin code or password for all of your devices to ensure that if someone does happen to get into one of your devices, they won’t be able to figure out your information for any others.
Don’t give out your passwords to anyone
It might seem cute to give your friends or dates access to your social media profiles and devices, but, it’s not a smart idea to give out that information to anyone, even the people you trust the most. If you’re worried about forgetting your password, grab one of the password protector programs we listed above. As for your friends? They can keep up with your social media from their own accounts.
Recognize that even if your account is private or anonymous, your information might still be accessible
If someone with the right skill set really wants to find out who you are or gain access to your social media profiles, they’ll likely be able to do it even if you think your account is completely private.
There’s no guarantee that your account is totally secure, so even if you think your profile, your account, and your comments are anonymous, take precautions not to share any information on your social media that you wouldn’t want available to the public.
College student privacy tips for using social media
Participating in social media requires learning some of the best practices for posting, tagging, and engaging with other features in order to present a good image and make sure that you’re not vulnerable to identity theft, cyberstalking, hacking, or worse. Use these tips to navigate social media safely:
Think carefully about who you connect with on social media
There’s a certain rush in accumulating more and more friends or followers on your social media profiles. It’s crucial, however, to be deliberate about who you connect with on your social media accounts and what information is accessible to them. Consider only adding people on your accounts who you know in person, or who you’ve met online but you genuinely feel that you can trust.
Moderate the content that you’re tagged in and posts on your account
We mentioned this in the privacy section, but it’s good to reinforce. Most social media websites and apps will offer you the choice to review and approve any content in which you’re tagged or which others post to your wall or page. Moderating your content means that you won’t wind up with an embarrassing post or picture connected to your account that you wouldn’t want others to see.
Here's where you can find Facebook's tagging settings:
And here are Instagram's instructions:
Because the internet never forgets, it also means that your name won’t be connected with any posts or images in the way that they would be if you simply untagged or deleted this content.
And, moderate your own content as well
It’s an unfortunate but true fact that professors, deans, and even potential employers might check out your social media to find out more about you. Make sure that the content that you’re posting and that others are posting about you is the kind of stuff you’d be comfortable having, say, your future boss or your grandmother see.
Keep the partying pictures to yourself or on a private account that’s not accessible to the public, and try to keep your public content smart, simple, and safe.
Be wary of strangers
Using social media is a great way to meet new people, whether that’s connecting with other students in your classes or using apps like Tinder and OKCupid to help ease into on-campus dating. For the most part, this isn’t something you should worry about too much. But, you do want to be sure that you’re picking up on signs that someone may be trying to scam you or, worse, do you harm. Here are a few things to keep in mind when chatting with strangers:
- Don’t give away any personal information such as your address, phone number, or other sensitive information unless you feel you can truly trust the person you’re talking to.
- If you’re planning to meet up with someone new, do it in a public place and let a friend or family member know where you’re going to be.
- Check for mutual friends. Many social media platforms let you know who you have in common with other folks. See if you have people in common and ask your mutuals whether this person can be trusted or not.
- Beware of catfishing! If somebody’s profile is giving you strange vibes or if it seems too good to be true, they might be trying to catfish you, meaning lure you into connecting or meeting up using a fake profile. Make sure you vet new people before meeting them.
Be deliberate about geotagging
Geotagging is a function of many social media platforms that automatically tells other users where you are when you post something on your profile. It’s a convenient function that lets your friends know where you are and all the cool stuff that you’re up to.
However, it can also be used by folks with bad intentions to determine your current location and figure out other sensitive information about you. Consider making geotagged posts after you’ve left the location or turn off geotagging functions on your social media accounts to avoid bad situations.
Don’t provide sensitive information on your social media accounts, and don’t give it out to people you don’t know
We all like getting messages and comments on our birthdays, but having your real birth date and your name accessible to people you don’t know could make you vulnerable when it comes to hacking and identity theft. Consider making your birthday private or not displaying it at all.
Likewise, phishing scams — scams where someone convincingly pretends to be a reputable company and requests information like your address, passwords, or social security number — are totally rampant these days. Never send out sensitive information over email or message, even if you think that it’s coming from somewhere realistic like your bank or your insurance company.
Take precautions with third-party apps
This is mainly a concern with Facebook. Many third-party apps like Tinder, Instagram, GrubHub, and others allow you to use Facebook to create an account and sign in. However, with data breaches like this year’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, it’s important to understand that using Facebook to sign into third-party apps can put your data and personal information at risk.
Be sure to review the information you’re granting access to each time you grant Facebook access to an app. You can also manage these settings or disconnect your apps from Facebook by going into your Settings tab on Facebook, clicking the Apps and Websites tab, and making adjustments as you see fit.
On Instagram, you can find them in your Settings, under Authorized Applications:
General internet and device safety for college students
Staying safe on social media also requires a basic knowledge of how the internet and computers work. Here are some useful tips for navigating the internet and making sure that you’re not leaving yourself and your devices unprotected:
Recognize that what happens on the internet, stays on the internet
Sure, you can delete that embarrassing picture of you or that rant you went on about how terrible the dining hall food is, but if somebody really wants to find those things then they’ll still be able to do so. Think carefully about what you post so you won’t end up having something you regret more or less on the public record. And, no, using the incognito or private function in your browser doesn’t mean that there’s no way to trace your history or your activity online.
Set up a Google alert for your name
It’s important to keep tabs on when and where you’re showing up on the internet. Of course, hopefully Google will just come up with a list of your greatest accomplishments and award-winning successes.
However, it’s a good idea to keep the alerts on just in case someone posts a picture of you or information about you that you’d rather not have professors, deans, or potential employers see when they search for you. You can do this easily if you have a Gmail account by heading to the Alerts page on Google and setting up an alert under your name.
Find out if your information is on any publicly-accessible databases
Some websites like Spokeo and True People Search make sensitive information about you — including phone numbers, addresses, social media accounts, and relatives — available to anyone who wants to find you. Thankfully most of these sites also have an option where you can remove your record from their database. For example, on True People Search, you can click the Privacy tab at the very bottom of the screen and choose the “Remove Records” option to go through the process of deleting your record from their site.
Don’t leave your devices unattended
You’ve been studying for hours, and you’ve definitely earned yourself a snack and a bathroom break. You might think it’s fine to leave your computer unattended for a few minutes while you take care of business. But, the best bet is to bring your devices with you. Otherwise you might return to a hacked computer or a social media post that you didn’t make yourself.
Be careful about what you post, log into, or send on public WiFi networks
Hackers and identity thieves have a much easier time gleaning the information about you that they need when you’re on a public WiFi network. This means that if you’re using public WiFi to make a purchase, they’ll have easier access to your credit card, or if you’re using that network to log into your Facebook, they’re more likely to be able to get your password.
This is challenging since many WiFi networks on college campus are accessible to the public or, at the very least, to your peers. Think carefully about who has access to the same networks as you and plan your internet and social media use accordingly.
Make sure you have security and antivirus software and that it’s up to date
We’ve all done it: wandered onto a site that’s not secure or tried to watch something online illegally and wound up with a million pop-up ads trying to lure us into giving up our information.
The best thing you can do to protect yourself and your data is to get an antivirus program and to make sure that you update it frequently in order to have the best possible protection against hacking and data theft. Norton Antivirus, one of the most respected software programs out there, offers special discounts of up to $65 off for college students.
College is a time to figure out who you are and develop the basic skills you’ll need to navigate life as an adult. Use these tips to be safe and savvy with your social media presence. You’ll have much more fun knowing that you and your information are protected!
We’ve got plenty of other useful (and much more fun!) information for college students right here on the Knoji blog like this article with The 8 Best Student Discount Programs and 50+ Student Discounts that you can access with nothing more than a valid college ID. Be sure to check back with the blog regularly and pop over to the Knoji homepage where you’ll find tons more student discounts and answers to thousands of questions about how to save money at your favorite retailers.