People of all generations are embracing social media: we want to interact with others, to know what they are doing and talking about. Today, dozens of social platforms and messenger applications promise us the ability to do this instantly. Research shows that people today spend up to two hours each day on social media sites, adding up to more than five years over the course of a lifetime. Not surprisingly, teens are the most active group.1 And while social media can help us connect with families and friends both near and far, it can also leave us exposed to new risks we may not have imagined before.
Three years ago, I was in the thick of studying for an insurance designation, and a yearlong research project served as the base of my thesis. I chose to focus on creating awareness around social media and how to navigate the dangers of its environment.
To be clear, my focus wasn’t on “cyber” related exposures, such as identity theft, ransomware (cyber extortion), and social engineering (the accessing of accounts and stealing funds). That’s not to say that education around these risks isn’t important…it absolutely is. New information and data around cybercrimes is in the headlines almost daily, and over the past few years I’m happy that many insurance providers have begun offering coverage for these exposures through their homeowner’s policies. (If your insurance carrier offers a form of cyber coverage, my advice is buy it—we are all exposed and cybercriminals are only becoming craftier.)
I focused on social media because I believe there is critical need to shine a light on the evolving issues surrounding social. Even where there is awareness, many people are turning a blind eye because they don’t think “it will happen to them.” In fact, my research indicates that thinking is far from the case. Here are a few examples:
The above mentioned are serious risks, and the community needs to educate themselves about how they and their children may be exposed. To help do just that, I’ll share what I believe are some of the most urgent issues where greater education and awareness are necessary:
Social media brings a new “stranger danger”: Both parents and kids need to be aware that information and photos of the family shared online may be visible well beyond their friend lists. There are a lot of bad actors on the internet, some of which canvas social media and may watch social pages for photos, such as those parents post of their children. A lot of information can be easily searched online without too much difficulty: a family’s address, for instance, or the school they attend, and can be used to locate you or your children. (Many parents even proudly advertise their children’s activities on the bumpers of their very own cars, “My daughter is a soccer player at Heights High School”). That’s why it’s important to be aligned as a family and understand that anything you post could be seen by the wrong people.
Apps for texting, meeting, or gaming are used commonly by kids, but many of these apps are not regulated. This means they can be accessed by anyone, include dangerous individuals who may pose as a peers. It also means that their content may not be regulated, so they may include inappropriate images and language, drug and alcohol references, and cyberbullying. It’s not just enough to know which apps your kids are using; it’s also a good idea to know who your children are interacting with on these types of apps.
The Cyberbullying Research Center indicates that 33.8 percent of teens they surveyed between the ages of 12 and 17 have been cyberbullied.8 The reality is that the world of social media can make it very easy for bullies to speak damaging words without facing their victims. Too many tragic headlines over the past several years have indicated the damaging effects this can have: from psychological damage to suicide. Currently, there is no national law against cyberbullying. However, advocates have worked for tougher laws and, in most states, laws have been established, including criminal sanctions, school sanctions, and mandatory school policies.9 Coverage for cyberbullying may be offered within a Cyber endorsement for purchase by some homeowner’s insurance providers, and can help cover expenses such as counseling, tuition, tutoring or temporary relocation expenses.
Anyone can fall victim to defamation exposures, which can extend from cyberbullying to online harassment, cyber-stalking, Internet trolls and more. Consider what you post online: comments that you make, even inadvertently, could be perceived as libelous, and could open the door to a potential case for defamation.
Check your homeowners or renters policy to make certain it contains personal injury liability, which traditionally covers allegations against libel, slander and defamation. Ask your agent to explain the coverage, including if and how online defamation/social media aggression is covered. Some insurance carriers have begun limiting coverage, including limiting coverage to only minor children. As with most types of coverage, personal injury does contain exclusions. If the act is deemed as “intentional,” coverage may not be extended, as well, mental anguish emotional injury claims are typically excluded. This coverage is not “automatic,” and research finds that only 5% of all homeowner’s policies contain coverage, according to Robin Olson of IRMI.10 As well, if you carry personal injury, your liability policy may respond.
Ten things to do
When I present this information to various audiences, there is always surprise in the room at some of these risks. This information is eye-opening and real, and people “need to know what they don’t know,” so that they can take action.
So, what can you do to help protect yourself and your family?
With social media sites accounting for nearly a third of user’s online time today, it doesn’t appear that the environment for social media risk is going to lessen anytime soon.12 If you were teaching your kids to walk across the street, would you hold their hand in the crosswalk? Become their “internet crossing guard.” It is one of the most important jobs a parent will ever have.
Finally, for adults, borrowing a quote from a victim of online defamation, Sue Scheff, I’ll close by saying, “let your keystrokes reflect a legacy of kindness, you won’t regret it.”13
This article originally appeared on Berkley One. View HERE.
About the Author:
Kim Lucarelli, CIC
Director of Sales, PCM, Sr. Vice President
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