Social media can contribute to psychological trauma and other challenges. Potential risks include;
- Quick and widespread communication of crisis-related rumors or other false information (e.g., inaccurate information about what happened or who was involved in a crisis situation).
- Quick and widespread communication of embarrassing or inappropriate information (e.g., personal photos or shameful information posted).
- Potential for triggering crises, increasing perceptions of threat and fear or creating crisis contagion.1
These are just a few drawbacks of rapid and widespread social media communication. Another threat many youths and adults face is that of Social Engineering.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) defines social engineering as “an attempt to trick someone into revealing information (e.g., a password) that can be used to attack systems or networks”.2 In a social engineering attack, an attacker uses human interaction (social skills) to obtain information about an organization, computer system, or individual’s private information. An attacker may seem unassuming and respectable. However, by asking questions, or checking social media accounts, he or she may be able to piece together enough information to start fake accounts or obtain passwords. For example, have you ever played a social media game that asks questions like, “what are your favorite songs? See if others agree.”, or make statements similar to, “take this survey to see how friendly you really are”. If so, you have been involved in social engineering whether for good purposes or not. The key is, these “tools” are designed to elicit personal information. Too often, it’s targeted at young people and can be used to influence them.
A buzzword in the social media world is “influencer”. Whether it’s someone who is an expert beekeeper or a popular dancer, social media influencers garner large audiences who buy their brand or listen to their advertisements. Generally, there’s no danger here, but for every good, there’s a bad. Due to the Internet of things (IoT) and the liberal nature of the internet, social influencers can take the form of cartoons, anime, or games. In turn, what may be popular entertainment for children can be used to send them very bad messages like the infamous “Tide Pod” eating challenge or something much worse like spreading threats and rumors of threats.
An important thing you can do to protect your children from harmful cyber threats is to be aware. Be aware of your devices and your child’s devices (e.g. cell phone, tablet) content filtering options. Be aware of what internet sites they are visiting, playing games on, and who they are talking to. There are a whole host of tools to help you secure your devices and become more aware of cyber threats. The Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (cisa.gov) and cyber.org have partnered to produce a Cyber Safety Series that covers everything from social media to safe gaming (cyber.org/cybersafety). This series is a good starting point to learn the basics. Much like teaching children to use a crosswalk, they should know how to safely navigate the cyber world.
- National Association of School Psychologists. (2016). [handout]. Bethesda, MD: Author.