Social Media: Are you being as safe as you should be on Facebook and Twitter?

Why we should be careful using social media
Why we should be careful using social media

Social media has become a part of many people’s daily routines.

It is maybe the first thing they look at in the morning and last thing at night.

The rise of sites such as Facebook and Twitter may have brought people closer together and given us new ways to interact –but it has also created problems along the way.

And experts have warned about the dangers of social media as it takes on an ever growing role in many people’s day-to-day lives.

One example of this was a well-meaning Facebook post made by a Blackpool woman last week.

The post, warning of an alleged attempted kidnapping, was shared more than 5,000 times and attracted hundreds of comments.

Trying to warn other parents, the woman wrote on November 13 about how her 10-year-old son was nearly abducted on his way home from school.

Soon the police were involved and on the lookout for a red van the boy described to his worried mother.

Within hours the police discovered no offences had taken place. The young child had misread the situation and his worried parents took his account of events in good faith.

It was, ultimately, a well-intentioned false alarm.

But by the time this was discovered, the original post, now deleted, had been viewed thousands of times, causing alarm across the Fylde coast.

It is an example, according to Sir Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology at the University of Manchester, of why people should be careful not to believe everything they read online.

Whether it’s an honest mistake, like this, or a downright lie, there is plenty of misinformation on the internet.

Following their investigation last week, police too warned of the dangers of sharing information online without first checking if it’s true.

While those who hit share were undoubtedly doing it for the right reasons, the result was unnecessary panic.

Sir Cary said: “A lot of caution should be exercised when using social media as a lot of the time people don’t think of the consequences. Because people act differently on social media it helps to not always believe everything on it.

“I also think parents should tell their children about the dangers at an early age so they are aware.”

For young people, he said, the impacts can last well into adulthood.

“People tend to lie on Facebook and exaggerate a lot of what they post,” he added.

“It is about pumping yourself up and creating attention.

“A lot of it is down to peer pressure and people tend to act differently on social media than they do face to face.

“It’s very dangerous for young people and especially the impact it can have later in life if you are caught lying.

“If a potential employer gets hold of your Facebook or Twitter account and there is evidence of lies or false stories they will be thinking twice about you.”

And police were particularly keen to stress the importance of thinking carefully before hitting the share button online.

After last week’s incident, a Lancashire Police spokesman said: “Speculation and third-hand reports on social media can quickly cause concern so we would like to remind people to be wary of misinformation.

“As is sometimes the case when people start to talk about such incidents, stories are confused and added to as they are passed on, without any malicious intent, and after the story has been retold a few times it can become exaggerated.

“It is really important that people report first-hand instances of suspicious behaviour and to try and avoid repeating gossip and third-hand information.

“People need to be wary of misinformation which is often provided by channels other than police.”

Afterwards, the boy’s father published a long post on Facebook explaining what happened during the incident saying it had been “unbelievably emotional”.

He wrote: “Fortunately, no crimes were committed and the van and people in it were completely innocent. My son exaggerated the story but it didn’t stop him from being scared. He still genuinely thought he was going to be kidnapped and we had no other possibility of getting another side of the story.

“Unfortunately we have had a overwhelming amount of negative, evil comments and personal messages from horrible people. My partner is now scared to go to work. She is scared in her own home and unbelievably upset.”

He added: “I know this doesn’t count for anything but my family would never make anything up and post it on social media. It’s simply a case of a petrified boy and a protective mother and father.

“We work. We live. We love our family and we keep our private life, private. Please can everyone respect that.”

Living in a digital age means incidents like this are likely to happen and it’s by no means a new thing. On New Year’s Day in 2016, a threat was made online to “kill as many people as possible” at Montgomery High School in Bispham. A series of messages were posted on Facebook in revenge for an alleged bullying.

In the messages, the poster praised Columbine Massacre gunmen Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who murdered 12 students and one teacher at their school in 1999, and Sandy Hook

Elementary School gunman Adam Lanza, who killed 20 children and six members of staff during his 2012 rampage in the US, saying: “I love guys that have the balls to pull something like this off, and on Monday I’ll be added to that list of people.”

It’s almost a year since a stampede on Oxford Street in London hit the headlines after social media users caused hysteria over a false terrorist alert.

Hundreds of people started to run amid fears of a shooting near Oxford Circus Tube Station on November 23.

Andrew Steen, 39, from Lytham was caught up in the stampede as he tried to enter Selfridges on the busy shopping street.

He said: “I thought I would nip into Selfridges but just as I did so this absolute panic just erupted. People were running in all different directions, shouting things like ‘there’s a shooter’, or someone’s in a lorry or there’s smoke coming out of the tube.

“No one knew what was happening. It was crazy. So as much as you don’t want to, you go on social media to find out. Some of the things I saw was just hysterical and simply added to the spread of false information.”

Sky News presenter Kay Burley and pop star Olly Murs were singled out for criticism after tweeting unverified information as the drama unfolded. Burley posted: ‘Man with a gun in Oxford Street. Stay away from the area. Tune to @skynews NOW’

Police at the time said they were responding to reports of shots fired but didn’t say anything about “a man with a gun”.

Murs, who was in Selfridges at the time, wrote: ‘Everyone get out of @Selfridges now gun shots!! I’m inside. Really not sure what’s happened! I’m in the back office... but people screaming and running towards exits!” He later added: “Being told no shots in Selfridges! Have no idea the whole store went crazy.”

Andrew said: “For a news professional what Kay Birley posted was a disgrace. And because Murs is a successful singer, he has a big audience and with that comes responsibility. Why if you are hiding in Selfridges does your mind think to tweet? Everyone was making a decision in their minds about what happened without knowing the full facts.”

The incident that sparked the mass evacuation was caused by an “altercation” between two men. Sixteen people were injured due to the stampede.

The original Facebook post - which was later deleted – read:

Parents be aware. Someone just tried to kidnap my son as he walked home from school in a red transit van with three children tied to chairs in the back laid down, not moving with ripped clothes. An Indian male about 40-years-old grabbed him and the older driver had grey hair. It happened on St James Road off Highfield Road. Police are involved. Please share and check your children are home safe.

UPDATE: The van is a red Volkswagen Transporter with no windows and a side door. This was put up so my friends and parents in my area, who like me, have children that walk home. The police will be going to my child’s school tomorrow and CID have just left a restaurant in the area who have come forward with CCTV, so if you live on the streets surrounding the area please can you check your home CCTV and contact the police if you find anything. I may not have worded my post right but in a panic I wanted to worn others.

My son has only seen the back of what he thought was heads, two short haired and one long. He just described what he saw in a child’s way.

Shame on anyone who would think it’s fake and I pray that it never happens to one of your children as tonight my family is living in a nightmare. If you think it only happens on TV dramas and would never happen to your child then please think again.