The world of social media is a truly great innovation thanks to the connectivity that it brings to all of us. But each platform functions in distinct ways, and understanding how to protect yourself from major threats is crucial to staying safe online.

Social media platforms aren’t inherently dangerous. It’s what other users choose to do with those platforms that can result in harm to your privacy and your identity. One of the chief threats you may face is in connecting with other people who are either intentionally or accidentally out to cause trouble.

Intentional threats on social media tend to be self-explanatory. But it’s not just people stealing your posts or photographs, or the danger of oversharing information about yourself. Sometimes, the people you connect with can be at the heart of the problem. It may come in the form of accepting a friend request from someone you don’t know, only to be lured into a scam and asked for money. You may find a new friend who sends you the link to a video through a private message, only the link actually contains a virus that steals data from your computer. You may even be pulled into a criminal activity through your new social media connections, one that you have no idea how to get yourself out of.

One of the most surprising social media platforms swarming with users who are intentionally seeking to cause you harm is Skype. Skype is truly one of the most useful internet tools; depending on the type of account you have, you can text, talk, or video chat with people all around the world through your computer.

But Skype has been flooded with scammers who use the video chat feature to extort money from their victims. You receive a contact request from someone who wants to connect with you, so you click it, even though you don’t know the person (usually a bad idea). You strike up a text-based conversation, which then escalates to video chatting. Before long, you and the sweet-talking person on the other side of the screen engage in more intimate video communication, only you’re unaware that the other person is recording you.

After the video session ends, you’re threatened with all manner of public disclosure if you don’t pay up. The video of you from this private conversation will be posted on your Facebook wall, sent to your professional connections over LinkedIn, emailed to your spouse, and worse. Sadly, there’s no guarantee the extortion will end once you pay their price; you may be subjected to further demands for money, or the video may still end up online even if you pay.

That’s a very extreme example of what can happen when you friend someone you don’t actually know on social media, and there a lot of other ways these intentional scammers can come after you. But what about your actual friends, or people you’re somewhat connected to? What’s the harm in friending that lady from your old neighborhood, or your former co-worker from a summer job?

It’s hard to know how safe that person is being online. Are you being subjected to hate speech or inflammatory images? Worse, are you being tagged in those posts, so that your name is now connected to something that you wouldn’t want people to see? What about viruses being sent out as links in your inbox, or Facebook hoaxes that get shared to thousands of people at once?

It can be hard to protect yourself from social media connections with “real life” friends or relatives. There’s always the fear that unfriending or unfollowing them will lead to public embarrassment the next time you two meet. Fortunately, a lot of platforms make it easy to avoid the discomfort, and simply let you “hide” the person’s posts instead of actually going so far as to sever the connection. They will still see what you share online, but you won’t be subjected to their content or unsafe internet activity.

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