Tips for keeping safe online

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personal safety for bloggers

Today, we’ve got a post by Foodies100 boss Sally Whittle…

One of the lovely things about blogging is that it lets us share our lives with friends, family and followers.

Of course, it also lets us share our lives with random work colleagues. And our children’s friends. And former partners. And, let’s face it, pretty much anyone with an Internet connection.

With that in mind, it’s important to think about personal safety and privacy when you’re a blogger.

I’ll preface this post with the fact that everyone’s boundaries are different, and there is no one right or wrong way to do this stuff. But it is important to consider all the questions, and make choices that are right for you and your family.

For me, this is an issue I’ve thought about since I started blogging about our family – and I considered it even more when my daughter starting blogging at the age of seven, and vlogging at nine.

So here are MY top 12 personal safety rules that I adopt on my own blog. I’d love to hear how your rules work for your family.

1. HAVE A CONSISTENT NAMES/FACES POLICY

Some bloggers choose not to show their children’s faces on social media at all. Other bloggers are happy to show faces, but don’t attach names to those images, relying on nicknames or initials instead. While other bloggers are happy to use their children’s names online. Whichever of these roads you want to go down, decide it early and ensure you communicate the policy clearly to people who might name your child OUTSIDE of your blog.

For example, I always refer to my daughter as “Flea” on my blog – but I also ensure that if we attend a blogging event together, the brand has agreed in writing that any content they create, from video interviews to name badges at the event, will also follow that name policy. I also secure written agreement from newspapers who feature my daughter, and I discuss the issue clearly with travel companies who organise trips, and radio stations where I might be interviewed.

2. DON’T GIVE OUT YOUR ADDRESS

For me, personally, this policy is pretty easy. I work professionally as a blogger, through a limited company, which has a registered business address. That means when I register a domain, request a product sample, or anything of that nature, I provide a work, rather than a home address. But if you’re not a company, then the issue becomes trickier, especially around domain names, where you provide an address.

You CAN pay for something called Whois privacy, which hides your address from public view, but with a couple of exceptions – the privacy is only available on .co.uk domains (not .com) and you must not do this if your blog earns money – so if you’re publishing advertising or sponsored posts, you should not opt out of the public register of domains (and you can be reported if you do so). You might want to consider asking your accountant to act as a registered address if you’re self-employed, or pay for a service address. Consider all these factors and options when choosing and buying domains.

On a related note, my home phone is set to not disclose my phone number on outgoing calls, so my contact details remain private as far as possible. I also have two mobile phones – one for blogging and work, and one for personal calls. It means I can easily avoid work and PR calls on my downtime. I thoroughly recommend this approach for work/life balance reasons, not just personal safety.

3. DON’T GIVE AWAY YOUR ADDRESS

Of course, it’s not just databases where you need to protect your privacy. The most common way to find out someone’s location is through content they’ve posted themselves online. When we share photos online, I try very hard not to show the outside of our house, or the house number. I never show the street name. Similarly, I don’t publish photos of Flea in her school uniform unless her school logo is obscured – either by her position, or I use Picmonkey to quickly pop a circle over the name of the school.

Consider when taking a photo what’s in the background – I know I’ve posted a photo that shows an addressed envelope in the past, without realising it. And do consider turning off location tagging on your mobile phone – the tagging on Instagram, for example, is incredibly detailed, and if you don’t want to show everyone exactly where your house is (or how far from it you are at any given moment) then you might want to turn off location tagging as a default setting.

4. CHECK YOUR PRIVACY SETTINGS

Another issue to consider is the information you share in places where you think it’s private – but it isn’t. Facebook in particular is a devil for this, and it’s always worth checking every few months how your profile looks to someone you are not friends with on that network – just click on the padlock in the top right corner of your account and ‘view as’. Make sure nothing you’re unhappy to share publicly is visible.

5. CHOOSE GOOD PASSWORDS

I must confess I know of plenty of people who will cheerfully admit hacking into other people’s email, Facebook and Twitter accounts. It’s inexcusable, but you don’t have to make it easy for people. Go through all your accounts and ensure you’ve selected unique, strong passwords that combine letters, numbers and punctuation (here are some more tips on creating strong passwords).

Delete the ‘admin’ account on your self-hosted blog to reduce the chance of your site being hacked. Change the default password on any wireless or Internet-enabled kit in your home – a lot of hacking happens when people leave online devices on default settings.

6. HAVE A FAKE DATE

Lots of sites will ask you for your mother’s maiden name and date of birth. But here’s the thing – there’s no law that says I have to tell them the truth. I have a consistent fake birthday that I use for websites and social media. Sure, it means people tend to wish me happy birthday on the wrong day, but it makes me less vulnerable to identity theft.

7. EDUCATE YOUR KIDS

Lots of our children are on social media and sometimes it’s pretty shocking how lax they can be with their own privacy when they’re let loose. With Flea, at 9, we have some very simple rules. You only access the Internet at home, with me. You never post a picture of another child without their parents’ permission. You never use your real name. You never show your school bag or uniform. I know every login and password. All purchases are disabled. Your website and social network notifications and messages come to me, and if they’re okay, I’ll share them with you. As she gets older, the rules will relax, but for now those basic rules are absolutely non-negotiable.

8. MODERATE, REPORT, BLOCK

Sooner or later, someone or something online will make you uncomfortable. First and foremost, remember this: if someone threatens your safety, report it to the police. No exceptions. The threat might be real, it might not, but you’re not in a position to know for sure, and it’s better to be safe than sorry.

The same applies to anyone who is consistently abusive or threatening (legally, for something to be harassment it needs to have happened twice or more). If it happens, keep a record of all comments, take screen shots of updates on social networks and pass them on to the police. If someone is simply being argumentative or stupid, then you have the choice to engage, ignore or block. Personally, I block – I can’t be bothered with someone ruining my good mood with their stupid opinions.

Remember too, that it’s super easy to report stuff you don’t like. Twitter and Facebook both let you report inappropriate content on their networks with a few clicks. If those networks agree with you, the antagonist is likely to find their account deleted or suspended. Both networks state that it’s against their rules to be abusive, to invade privacy, post spam, and to bully, intimidate or post hate speech.

9. STOP ADVERTISING YOUR GOODS

One of my favourite ever stories from my days as a technology journalist was the reporter who gleefully Tweeted photos of this expensive wireless kit he’d been sent – and the next day Tweeted that he’d been burgled. Think about what you’re sharing when you post photos online – especially if you could become a target for thieves. Don’t advertise that you’re leaving home for two weeks, and there’s a brand new HD TV in the utility room. Don’t advertise the train you’ll be catching, carrying your shiny new iPad Air. It’s common sense, but thieves like easy targets – don’t make yourself one. And make sure your home insurance covers you for expensive kit that you might be reviewing.

10. TRUST NOBODY (COMPLETELY)

I remember another blogger once laughing at me because I said that I was friendly with lots of bloggers but I don’t consider someone a friend until I’ve looked them in the eye. But my point is – online, you can pretend to be anyone or anything you like. And that person might seem really fun, clever, and normal. In person, though, you could be someone else entirely. Like a 50 year old truck driver called Steve. So if you’re meeting someone for the first time online, take basic precautions – let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be back. Take a mobile phone. Don’t invite someone you don’t know personally to your home. Trust your instincts.

Those are my tips for online safety – but I’d love to hear if you have any more you’d add to the list, or approach differently?

 

 

Sally is the publisher of Foodies100, the UK's largest directory of brilliant UK food and drink blogs and bloggers. Every day of the week, we promote the UK's best and most exciting blogs about food and drink.

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