Social networks: the 5 most common dangers and which actions to take

If social media is used in a clueless way, this can have emotional, social, financial, and even legal consequences. In some cases, it can even lead to personal data being shared. Children and teenagers are especially exposed to the social media risks, but this doesn’t mean that adults, authorities, banks, and even large internet companies are not immune.

Social networks are more important than ever. From the approximate 3.43 billion internet users worldwide, 2.28 billion (almost a third of the world’s population) regularly visits social networks – and the trend is rising. As the platform with the most monthly clicks, Facebook is leading the way and is even celebrating a double victory among mobile device users with its partner, WhatsApp.

The enthusiasm for sharing sloth and cat photos may be great, but where there’s more people, it makes it easier for tricksters to lurk. In real life, they are attracted by street festivals, crowded train carriages, and bustling tourist attractions; in the digital world, it’s social networks that are flashing beacons for hackers and cyber criminals.

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Social networks and their dangers: likes are addictive

Young people are particularly prone to becoming addicted to the internet: in a phase or life where social contact with peers plays a major role in self-esteem and identification, likes and requests for friendship tempt people to spend more and more time in front of the screen.

Similar to a gambling addiction, the high feeling when the body releases endorphins can only be felt for a fraction of a second – when the notification shows you have a message or a friend has liked your post. As soon as the smartphone is out of sight, many people start to feel uncomfortable and as if they’re missing out. It’s hard to imagine a time when smartphones didn’t exist.

Privacy and messaging: bullying in the digital age

While some people receive their daily dose of happiness from the internet, many have to prepare themselves for the worst when they log onto their social network: they are victims of cyber bullying or stalking. Students that are picked on in the classroom often find that this inexcusable behaviour spills over into the digital world. This may include threats of violence, slander, or even leaking personal images. Victims of stalkers are often confronted with threatening messages. By uploading photos that anyone can see, users make it much easier for potential stalkers to get ammo.

Parents should therefore talk to their children about the dangers of social media before allowing them to create an account. It is particularly important to focus on the importance of privacy settings. The less personal data that is publicly accessible, the better. TrendMicro has analysed various sources, which has shown that culprits mostly use information about their victim’s school (according to 61% of users), home town (48%), or vacation plans (26%) to harrass or threaten.

Facebook and the dangers of data trafficking: spreading personal information

If you navigate around the internet, you’ll leave traces. Anyone who makes their Facebook timeline public and feeds the Silicon Valley giant with information on their age, favourite music/games/brands, etc. will end up leaving a digital footprint as big as Godzilla’s. You can read it clearly in the general terms and conditions: Facebook not only has the rights to all the images you upload onto the platform, but it can also sell public profile data on (i.e. like a digital dossier) to its partners. However, many users do not see this as a problem: after all, a quarter of those surveyed were happy to see personal advertising based on data evaluation. This makes searching for consumer goods a lot easier.

However, everyone should be aware that this could end up with your data falling into the hands of criminals. In addition, users are rarely aware of how far their data travels on the net. Even if you download an app, you often have the choice to allow the app access to certain information. This personal data is what makes social media users interesting for companies – sometimes you can earn real money by selling this information or at least tailoring advertising to the user.

Compared to this, personalised advertising is a relatively harmless use of personal data. When so-called social engineers get hold of your data, the threat is a lot bigger. They are modern-day con artists: social engineers deceive their victims to get their data or money. They use different methods to do this: as a rule, they adopt a false identity to gain the trust of their potential victim. Either they present themselves as someone from the authorities (e.g. someone from a bank or from the government) or they impersonate friends or relatives. They do this by hacking accounts and then writing to the contacts, for example.

Baiting is a special kind of social engineering: providers of supposedly free downloads ask for your account login information, which they then use to access your e-mail. Quid Pro Quo is a method whereby fraudsters pretend to offer certain services or information if the user follows their instructions or divulges technical data beforehand.

An example: if the con artist is pretending to be from an IT company that offers a quick fix for common bugs, they might ask the victim to turn off their firewall and install an update. This update then turns out to be a virus or spyware.

Phishing attacks feed on victims’ fear and their trust in authorities. For example, many phishing e-mails  base their text and design on those from banks and renowned service providers. They then link to websites similar to those of respected authorities. If you enter your bank details there, they will be forwarded directly to cybercriminals. Another possibility is identity theft, where the perpetrators do business or commit crimes under your name.

Reputation damage: public content can be seen by everyone – including your boss

Are you looking for a new job or have you just got to know the love of your life? Social media offers many possibilities to leave an impression on others – both positive and negative. A good 75% of HR managers get their first impression of applications by checking Facebook and other social media platforms. If you decided to make photos of your alcohol or drug binges available to the public, this will reduce your chances of getting the job. Also, if there are many statuses bad-mouthing you, this can also hinder your chances. However, not every social media mistake is self-inflicted: blackmailers or personal enemies can easily spread posts online to damage your reputation. These social media dangers range from defamation to revenge porn. Although these platforms have rules of conduct set up as well as moderators on hand to delete any posts that break these rules, they can’t always react straightaway. Juicy content can therefore be shared quite quickly. In such cases, victims can only be helped by documenting who had access to the relevant data, and then going to the police.


Learn more about the diversity of social networks and how to maintain good customer contact by reading our post on social networks: The most important social media platforms at a glance.

Social networks as a PR tool: poor organisation jeopardises your image

Many companies use social networks to increase their reach and communicate with customers. However, large institutions or companies often have a large number of accounts that need to be managed. If there is no leading position that takes care of how accurate and how up-to-date topics are, this quickly makes a bad impression on readers. This lack of content organisation is one of the social media dangers that many companies underestimate. The comment column should never be left unmoderated: a discussion full of insults will deter new readers. If the company doesn’t intervene, this could also damage their image. Scandals are inevitable and could lead to a PR nightmare.

Businesses should offer courses as well as implement a social media policy. It’s also a good idea to have restricted access for certain employees. These can help you secure a successful online presence, but legal protection is also important. One of the biggest threats in social networks is hackers, who either falsify content or distribute viruses and worms to customers after they’ve taken over an unsuspecting victim’s account.

Phishing and redirecting users to malicious websites is also on the rise among cybercriminals. Depending on the type of attack, financial damage can occur in addition to reputational damage.


Social networks are full of dangers, which could have profound consequences on you or your business. You can avoid many of these pitfalls just by using these networks carefully. In addition, the following measures often help:

  • Set up the privacy settings so that only friends have access to your posts
  • Avoid posting personal information, holiday plans, etc.
  • Do not accept requests or messages from people you don’t know
  • Avoid clicking on shortened URLs
  • Report suspect or insulting/threatening accounts
  • Keep private and work accounts separate
  • Organise social media training for employees, especially on data security