As the presence of the internet in our lives increases, more and more seniors find themselves drawn to social media platforms, internet dating, newsfeeds, and more online resources. The internet can be a wonderful place, full of nearly all of the known information in the entire world. It can help you stay connected with loved ones and engage with communities full of people who share your interests. However, it also has its drawbacks. Online safety and privacy is a major concern, especially for senior citizens. Seniors didn’t grow up with access to this technology, so they didn’t get the chance to learn about internet safety in school. Everything online is also rapidly changing and developing, and it can be difficult to keep up. However, without sufficient internet savvy, seniors can be unknowingly hacked, catfished, or scammed. They can lose money, personal information, photos, and more. So, we’ve created this guide to help you or your senior loved one preserve their internet safety and privacy online.
Choosing the Right Social Media Platform: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter (now X), Threads, etc.
There are a dizzying amount of social media platforms available these days. Popularity between the sites is continually fluctuating. If you want to get started with social media, how do you know which site is right for you?
First, you’ll need to decide what you want out of social media. Do you want to connect and share photos with friends and loved ones? Then you’ll want to consider Instagram or Facebook. These are the most popular social media sites, and they’re easy to use. Most of your friends or relatives probably already have accounts. If you’re more interested in posting or reading short-form text commentaries, you might want to consider X (formerly called Twitter) or Threads (Instagram’s response to X). We caution seniors to stay away from sites like Reddit, which lack safety and privacy features.
Privacy and Security on Social Media
Once you’ve selected what platform(s) you want to be a part of, and created an account, you will need to check your privacy and security settings. We’ll provide a quick overview of how to do this on Instagram and Facebook, because these are the most popular options for seniors.
Facebook’s default settings are “Public,” which means that anyone in the entire world can see everything you post, comment on, share, or interact with on Facebook. This goes beyond your friends and family, and even beyond Facebook users. Anyone online, anywhere in the world, at any time, can see everything you do on Facebook. This becomes problematic very quickly, as shared photos can be stolen and used without permission, scammers will attempt to contact you, and personal information can be used to hack into your account. Here’s how to change your settings to Private.
To change your privacy settings on Instagram, click your profile photo on the left side of the screen, where it says “Profile.” Then,
- Click the gears icon on the top right of the screen, next to “View Archive”.
- Click “Settings and Privacy.”
- Change your account to private, if it is not already, by toggling the button under “Account Privacy.”
Usually, setting your account to Private is all you need to do on Instagram to hide everything you post from anyone who is not a Follower you approved. This makes Instagram a safer option as far as privacy goes. If you don’t change this setting to Private, anything you post will be available to anyone on the internet (not just Instagram users).
So, the first thing you need to do is change your settings to private. For the safest use of social media, only allow your Facebook friends or Instagram followers to see any of your information. To do this, follow these simple steps. We recommend doing this from a desktop or laptop computer, not your phone.
- Select your profile picture in the upper right-hand corner of the screen.
- From the menu that drops down, select “Settings and Privacy” (with the gear icon), then choose “Settings” (gear icon again).
- Scroll down the menu that appears on the far left-hand side of the screen. Find “Audience and Visibility.”
- Choose “How People Find and Contact You.” We recommend changing all of these settings to “Friends” or “Friends of Friends,” and turning off the button that allows search engines to link to your profile.
- Next, click “Posts”. Change the default audience to “Friends” instead of “Public.”
- Click “Stories,” and change this to “Friends” as well.
- Choose “Reels,” and change this to “Friends.”
- Click “Followers,” and set all of these to “Friends.”
- Click “Profile and Tagging,” and set all of these to “Friends” or “Friends of Friends.”
After you’ve changed these settings, don’t accept Facebook friend requests or Instagram follower requests from people you don’t know personally and in real life.
Using the Internet Safely and Responsibly
Once you have your online accounts set to Private, there are a few things to keep in mind to use social media sites safely.
Many scammers in many countries of the world target seniors. They believe you’ll be less informed and more susceptible to their tactics.
- Don’t converse with people you don’t know. If a stranger sends you a message asking to be friends, or tags you in a comment asking you to accept their friend request, ignore them. People say things like “You have such a charming smile, I was wondering if we could be friends,” or “You might not remember me, but we went to school together.” They’ll use any information about you that they can find. If you don’t remember them, think twice before returning messages. Try asking mutual friends if they remember them, and ask the person sending the message questions that can confirm who they say they are.
- Pay attention to spelling and grammar. Many online scammers speak English as a second language, and the wording of their message may seem a little off. It might sound strangely formal or old-fashioned, and words might be used in slightly incorrect ways. If most of the people you know are native English speakers, these can be tip-offs.
- Never give out any personal information, no matter what. Don’t provide credit card numbers, social security numbers, your real phone number or address, bank account information, passwords, or any other information to anyone online. If this is someone you know personally, text or call them instead of using Facebook Messenger or Instagram messages to confirm why they need this information.
- If you must send money to someone you know personally and in real life, use a verified and official app like Venmo. Don’t follow any links to transfer money sent by anyone online. Only use the official app or website, which you can find by searching on Google.
Here are a few common scams to avoid.
- Don’t respond to people offering to ship you items and asking for payment in advance, or attempting to buy items from you online and send you money in advance.
- Never click on any links to other apps or sites. These are often fake sites pretending to be legitimate. Only go through official apps downloaded through your App store, or official websites found on Google search results.
- Don’t open any links that are sent to you unexpectedly. Links might say something like “Check out this video of you”. If it’s not someone you know, never click. If it is someone you know, err on the side of caution. Text or call them before clicking the link.
- People sometimes create duplicate accounts of people you do know, or hack into legitimate accounts, attempting to scam you this way.
- The USPS or UPS will not text you telling you they couldn’t deliver a package. They’ll leave a note on your door.
- The IRS will not call you, text you, or call and leave a message. They will always send you an official letter through the mail first.
More Scams to Avoid
Internet safety and privacy is an important concern for seniors. Stay alert to these scams.
- Your car warranty probably isn’t expired.
- Your computer doesn’t have a virus that you need to call a specific number or visit a specific website to fix. If you suspect your computer has a virus, take it to a local electronics store or computer repair place right away.
- Also, you never need to post special statuses or comments on Facebook or Instagram to maintain your privacy settings, or avoid being charged money. Nothing you post on Facebook or Instagram is legally binding in any way. Changing your status or adding a comment doesn’t do anything.
- Walmart and Costco aren’t giving away free gift cards.
- If you aren’t sure if it’s a scam, check a site like “Snopes” or Google it.
If anyone on a social media site does attempt to scam you, report these messages right away. On Facebook Messenger, from Chats, tap a conversation to open it. Tap the person’s name at the top. Scroll down and tap Report. Select a category. Tap SUBMIT REPORT.
On Instagram, open the conversation in the Instagram app. Tap the individual message you’d like to report. Tap next to the message. Click Report. Select a reason for why you’re reporting the message, then follow the on-screen instructions. Tap Submit Report.
Maintaining Internet Safety and Privacy for Seniors
In conclusion, the internet is a great place as long as you have plenty of knowledge and a healthy dose of skepticism. Remember, even when you change your settings to Private, nothing you put online is ever truly private, and it can never truly be deleted. Never share compromising photos of yourself or others online. For example, a good rule of thumb is to avoid posting anything you wouldn’t want your employer to see (even if you’re retired), and of course, no passwords, phone numbers, addresses, bank or credit card info, etc.
In conclusion, Stellar Living hopes this guide to internet safety and privacy for seniors helps you or your senior loved one!