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Using social networks safely - digital security for Syrian journalists

Using social networks safely - digital security for Syrian journalists

Social networks are quick and easy ways to communicate and keep up with current events - most Syrian journalists and their readers rely on them. But beware, they can also be dangerous battle grounds.

Facebook has emerged as the most preferred communication service amongst Syrians interested in political affairs. This makes it a natural place for journalists to reach out to both an audience and potential sources, but its popularity is also well known by government, opposition forces and various factions. Using social networks securely takes some forethought and planning.

Make sure you are logged out of your accounts when you’re not using them. This can help prevent other websites posting on your behalf through the social network and revealing private/sensitive information about you. It will prevent others from being able to access your information if you have been using a public computer or have left your phone unlocked.

Create a “harmless” Facebook account that does not contain any sensitive content. Several people have reported that they’ve been asked during detention by security personnel at checkpoints to “access their Facebook accounts”. Replying that you do not have a Facebook account might make you seem more suspicious. To be on the safe side, create a separate account with your name and fill it with pictures of flowers, cats, food or silly jokes and no political content.  Use this one when you need to show one at checkpoints.

Check your privacy settings on all your accounts. Websites like Facebook and Twitter often update security and privacy settings without warning. Check these frequently to see if anything has changed or if new features are sharing information you didn't intend. Some sites let you view your page as if you are another user (such as Facebook and Google+). Alternately, you can log out of the site and then visit your own page to see what's appearing to the world.

Consider everything that you post online to be public, and act accordingly. Never post content which is private or of a personal nature, such as telephone numbers or your current location. Even ‘private’ forums, or groups such as those on Facebook (like the Vulture Club) should be treated with a level of caution. You have no idea who all the members really are, or if the information being posted is accurate, and thes groups can be hacked.

Limit your social posting when working on an assignment. It may seem obvious, but it is not unheard of for a journalist to travel through hostile environments geo-tagging along the way.  Or a journalist could be excited about a potential interview or development in their work and publish it on a social network when they should keep it to themselves. Finish the assignment and then share the final, published product.

Turn off Geo-tagging options. Many social network sites automatically post where you are along with your update. Turn this off to make sure your exact location is kept confidential.

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