Securing personal information on social media

By Kyle Ferraro

Proper protection on social media accounts should be a top priority for users. Female Youngstown State University students have been the victims of fake Instagram accounts created with their names and photos with erotic external links. 

These accounts take pictures from the women’s Instagram pages and post them on a made-up PocketStars or OnlyFans account. It’s unknown whether these are personal attacks or scams from internet bots. Either way, it’s a violation of privacy. 

Sydney Stalnecker, a senior English major, experienced someone utilizing her information. She received messages from a friend letting her know what happened. Stalnecker’s initial reaction was shock.

“I felt like my privacy was violated,” Stalnecker said.

In this situation, there are a few ways to handle it, according to YSU police Chief Shawn Varso. He’s heard of similar situations and gave advice on how to deal with them. 

“If you are a victim of this incident, first contact whatever the social media platform is and file a report with them,” Varso said. 

Stalnecker and another Instagram user who wished to remain anonymous dealt with this set of circumstances themselves and reported the accounts multiple times. After a short time, the accounts were removed. 

YSU Information Technology Security Engineer Aaron Merlino and Varso both said it’s important to keep social media accounts private and clean of any personal information. 

“Try to make sure whatever sphere of influence that we have around our social media group stays as small and as intact as possible to limit the amount of exposure to folks out there that might want to do harm,” Merlino said.

Students should be proactive in protecting themselves and their passwords.

“Don’t share a lot of information. Precaution is probably one of the best things you can do,” Varso said.

Whether these accounts are made by real people or internet bots is difficult to determine. Personal vendettas are thought of as one of the main reasons for the harassment, Merlino said.  

“I feel like it was a personal attack, maybe from someone I went to high school with,” Stalnecker said. 

Scams are a rising difficulty students have to deal with, and there are plenty of signs that can give away a potential scam.

“Whenever you see economic uncertainty, you may see an uptick in scam efforts,” Merlino said. “Watch for misspellings, over-politeness, and just if it seems too good to be true, it’s probably not true. Another sign is if a specific company reaches out to you with a Gmail address, that isn’t legit.”

Merlino said to treat any account that doesn’t meet the eye test with caution.

Varson said these cases could technically be considered a violation of Ohio’s telecommunications harassment statute. This would be a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable with six months in jail and up to $1,000 in fines if found guilty. 

“The problem is trying to find who did it,” Varso said. “It’s very difficult to find evidence and prove they’re guilty of the crime.”

**Editor’s note: Though a member of the editorial team, Stalnecker did not contribute to the editing process of this story.