Grace Marr, 25, is on Facebook. Just like pretty much everyone else, she uses the social media site and posts photos on it without any issues. She had no reason to think that would ever change.
But recently she discovered that her Facebook profile had fallen into the wrong hands.
Three of her profile pictures had been stolen and displayed on a lewd website, alongside a promotion advertising inappropriate behavior.
Unsurprisingly, Marr was horrified when a family friend alerted her to the graphic images.
“The whole experience was creepy and gross,” she said. “There are no lewd pictures of me online, but I hate to think what they edited on the ones they took.”
It’s shocking to think that young women with absolutely no links to the lewd cyber world could find their images used in such a way. But this proves that it is possible - and may be happening on a much larger scale than we realise.
Marr found herself a victim of this purely because three of her profile pictures on Facebook were not private. It meant they were publically available on the internet.
Something so simple meant that her account was violated by another website.
So how can you make sure, once and for all, that your social media accounts are not at risk?
VIVA speaks to a number of experts to find out what safety measures women can carry out online to ensure their private photos stay that way.
Adjust privacy settings
Facebook automatically sets profile pictures and cover photos to ‘public’. If you don’t want anyone other than your friends to see them, you have to specifically change your settings. It’s not hard, but it needs doing manually.
Facebook has an ‘audience selector’ tool that lets you see just how much content you want friends, friends of friends, or everyone to see.
Do a web search
Jac Kee of Take Back The Tech, a group that’s cracking down on violence against women online, says: “It’s generally good practice to do a web search on yourself once in a while to see where information about you is being published, and if any of them are not things that you did yourself, or expressly consented to.
“It’s a good way to also figure out if someone is creating fake accounts using your personal info (which is a common form of online violence and harassment). Or as in this case, using you for marketing, which is a violation of your rights at so many levels.”
Search for images
Instead of simply searching for your name, you can also search for your image. If there is a photo you’re particularly concerned about appearing elsewhere, save it onto your desktop. Then drag it into Google’s search engine, which will allow you to see where on the internet that photo has been published.
Obviously you can’t do it for all the 1,524 photos you might be tagged in on Facebook. But it’s a thorough way of seeing if a particular picture has been used on any inappropriate sites.
Don’t show your face in photos
Women shouldn’t have to change their behaviour because of trolls or hackers. But if you are really worried about your photos being stolen and used elsewhere, then Kee suggests not choosing a photo of your face for your profile picture on Facebook, or Twitter (which is publically available).
“You can choose photos that don’t fully show your face but have enough detail that your friends who know you can recognise you, to circumvent facial recognition software,” she says. “They can be cool arty shots.”
Be a teenager on Facebook
The social network makes it that any teenagers using the site are constantly reminded about sharing a post or photo with a public audience. Every time a teen chooses ‘public’ in the audience sector, they’re shown a reminder that the post can be seen by anyone on Facebook.
It means that they’re more likely to realise what they’re doing, and change the setting to a more private one. Unfortunately, if you’re not a teenager, Facebook trusts you to do that yourself.
Take a refresher course
Facebook has rolled out a ‘Privacy Check Up’ feature, which is a sort of refresher lesson on what to post and how to have greater control. The website does often change things around (the fact that cover photos are automatically available to the public was a relatively recent one), so this might be worth investigating.
Kee thinks Facebook should do more: “I think, since Facebook knows this is how their platform is being abused - and their users are being put at risk because of their default privacy settings - they need to step up and do more to ensure this doesn’t happen. They should set their default to private rather than public.”
The social network did not comment on whether this development is in the pipeline.
Don’t post photos online
David Cook, specialist cyber crime solicitor at Slater and Gordon, says that sadly the only way to truly avoid something like this from happening is to make sure there aren’t any pictures of you online.
“My experience in this area of work has absolutely taught me that once something is online, there really is no way of getting rid of it,” he said. “Once the genie is out of the lamp, it is not possible to put it back in.”