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Beacon Senior News

Social media: How to navigate the new Wild West

Sep 30, 2019 01:48PM ● By Adam Cochran

A friend recently asked me if I knew of any resources that could help her mom understand the code of the new Wild West— the vast social media frontier.

In a frontier community, there are a lot of down-to-earth folks who mind their own business. There are friendly types who host parties for socializing and fraternizing, but also people who just try to start fights and two-faced gossips who eavesdrop and sensationalize any goings-on they are privy to.

The code of the social media frontier serves the same purpose as the code of the West: to keep you safe from sharpshooting villains, snake oil shysters, gossips, and seasonal twisters. The bustling railroad towns of the Wild West often had a sheriff, but that didn’t stop ruffians from causing a ruckus in town. Nor did it stop shady land deals, robberies, or snake oil salesmen from deceiving the townsfolks.

If citizens wanted to stay safe, they had to follow some unwritten rules to avoid trouble. These are almost identical to the rules you would follow in the wild frontier of social media.

Rule No. 1:  Don’t trust strangers

Social media often refers to those you are connected with on the internet frontier as “friends” or “followers.” However, you should apply the same rules on Facebook as you do to acquaintances in the real world.

If a stranger wants you to connect with them for no reason, be careful. This rule applies even if the new acquaintance knows some of your friends or he/she went to the same high school you did.

Rule No. 2: If a deal is too good to be true, it always is

There’s a new doctor in town and he’s brought an elixir from the mystical Orient that cures cancer, baldness and dry mouth. Of course, the remedy isn’t cheap, but you can’t put a price on good health and fortune.

Just as you’d avoid this physician and his solutions in the Old West, you should steer clear of anyone making promises on social media. Facebook and similar platforms are fundamentally built on networks of people. Schemers and shady evildoers take advantage of this structure by pawning hoax wares and services by tapping into your personal network of social media connections.

Rule No. 3: Maintain true grit

Some folks are afraid of showing backbone around town because they don’t want their caution to be misinterpreted as prejudice or pessimism. Unfortunately, bad guys love to take advantage of the trust of strangers. In the modern social media frontier, this process is referred to as social engineering.

Crafty bad guys will do their best to convince you that they are not strangers. In many cases, they will gain your trust by counterfeiting the account of a close friend or family member by duplicating his or her name, photos and status updates. When you receive a connection request from someone you are already connected to, this is typically what is happening. It’s a scheme bad guys use to trick you into letting them into your network. You can both block and report them.

Cunning social media bad guys will often encourage you to visit a website or sign up for a free product or service so that they can gather your private information and log into your bank account or use your debit card without your consent.

Using caution is essential to safety and survival on this new frontier. Don’t feel bad for being cautious or suspicious. That’s just part of following the code of the frontier.