Internet safety and journalists

By Ashley Crockett

Image from Jamadots

By now, most Internet users know not to wire money to Nigeria to help out a great-aunt or to click a link in a suspicious email. Those with accounts infiltrated by spambots (hopefully) learn from their mistakes and switch to a stronger password. But when social media outlets are vital to your profession, preventative measures need to be taken to avoid potentially time-consuming battles to regain control of your accounts.

 Password Strength
Most sites require a minimum number of characters and perhaps even a combination of numbers and letters. Others go a step further by also requiring at least one capital letter. Although words and significant numbers, like birthdays, are easier to remember, a seemingly random combination of letters and numbers (and symbols if the site allows them) is incredibly difficult for a bot to crack. Graham Cluely, senior technology consultant at software security company Sophis, suggests using a sentence to remember these complex passwords. He uses "F&WL2HH&E4D" as an example, because the user can remember "Fred And Wilma Like To Have Ham And Eggs For Dinner."

Image from Simple I.T.

If possible, users should have notification emails sent to them whenever a new device logs in to their account. Facebook has users "name new devices." It also has users identify people from their friends list based on photos from their profiles. Since many social media sites still don't have this type of feature, users may have to rely on the site locking out anyone who enters an incorrect password too many times.

Back-up confirmations
Whenever you sign up for something new, a confirmation message is usually sent to whatever email address you provided. Save these emails in your account in a separate folder specifically designated for account details. And, just in case you lose control of your email account, save PDF versions (or at least screen shots) of those emails directly on your computer. Sites often refer to these original emails if you need to regain access to an account.

By following these tips, journalists and other social media users should have secure accounts. As journalists, however, we must remember how easy it is for people to find information on the Internet.

Ollie Bray, National Adviser for Learning and Technology Futures at Learning and Teaching Scotland, discussed a situation in which a reporter shared the age, sex, location and YouTube ID of a minor who posted a video of a school fight. Bray reiterates the ethical (and often legal) implications of revealing the first three details about a minor. The fourth, however, may seem like fair game -- until you remember how easy it is to Google such information and find out even more about that user. Keeping quiet about the  details of a minor's social media accounts is just as vital as not revealing that minor's traditional identifiers.

How do you protect your online identity?

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