Guest Post: Social Media and Physical Security Guidelines


Social media refers to web-based communication and networking platforms. Some popular platforms are Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, etc. The connection of social media to personal security is often overlooked by many aid workers. Social media can be a useful tool to enhance personal security or it can be a tool to expose someone’s vulnerabilities. 

Examples of good social media:

•  A missionary pilot went missing in Africa. The family used Facebook to post entries and to solicit help with the search and rescue of the pilot.

•  Facebook, Twitter and blogs are regularly used by aid organizations, news agencies, and individuals to post live events of unrest, riots, shootings, grenade attacks, accidents, and natural disaster events.

When sensitive information is communicated using social media, insecurity can also arise. Real examples of aid workers’ insecurity:

•  Blog posts (including dates, destinations, and routes) about upcoming program visits in areas known for banditry.

•  Blog posts that revealed the location of an aid worker's residence (the staff member later left the conflict zone country when a Western intelligence agency warned an abduction was being planned).

•  An interview that appeared in an online magazine where an aid worker discussed the security measures of a refugee camp.

•  An aid worker posted culturally insensitive photos and posts while working in a country governed by Islamic law. The aid worker also posted a map and information about an upcoming project site visit. On her way to the project area, she was kidnapped. 

•  The Facebook account of an aid worker held hostage had to be disabled due to suspicions that people linked to the media had hacked the account to access photos and information for a news story. 

General Guidelines

•  Know your friends. 

o  Do not post what you would not tell or show a stranger.

o  Only accept invitations from people who you personally know. (We tell our children not to talk to strangers so why would we?)

o  If someone is harassing or threatening you, remove them from your friends or contact list, block them, and report them to the site administrator.

•  Keep your information private.

o  Security and privacy settings help you to control who sees what you post.

o  Keep your photos private. Post them in a private album and not for everyone in your network (or your friends/contacts’ network) to see.

o  Remove geotags from your images before posting. Digital cameras, smartphones and notepads with built-in GPS units are marking your digital photos and videos with the exact time and location of the shot. (To find out how to disable geotagging from your photos, search “How to turn photo geotagging on or off”)

o  Do not tag your location when posting an entry.

o  Do not post photos of where aid workers reside, especially in insecure environments.

o  Do not post about upcoming routes and times of your trips.

o  Do not discuss details of your project or personal security.

o  When traveling, log out of your social media sites. In the event your phone, tablet or computer is lost or stolen, your social media accounts can’t be readily accessed.

o  Tracking apps found on many smartphones and fitness tracking devices may have the ability to map and track your location routes. Consider the implications of using the tracker where you live/work, especially conflict-prone locations. 

•  Consider the security of others when you post or tag them in photos.

o  Do maintain cultural sensitivity when posting an entry or photo.

o  Do not blog, post, or tweet negative political opinions of your host country.

•  Know the law. Countries have different regulations for posting entries. In some countries, blogging an opinion which is perceived to criticize the government could land you in prison for a very long time. 

•  Talk to your children. Consider participating in your child's social networking activities. Establish their online identities, passwords, and privacy settings. Children should understand the dangers of who they accept as a friend and what they post online. 

This list of social media traps is illustrative, not all inclusive. The tips are not intended to protect a user’s identity. As technology changes, it may become even more difficult to hide or disguise location data and personal identity. Users of smartphones, especially short-term field visitors, might unwittingly expose field location data and/or compromise the identities of workers or served populations.


The views and opinions expressed in this guest post belong to the author, who is responsible for its content, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Telios Law PLLC.


About Shannon Fariel-Mureithi

Shannon Fariel-MureithiShannon Fariel-Mureithi is the Global Security Director for Food for the Hungry (FH), a humanitarian aid organization serving the poor in 20 countries aiming to end world hunger. Shannon is responsible for organization-wide security and crisis management. She built, from conception to implementation, a global security and duty of care program. She authored two security manuals; one was translated into seven languages.

Shannon has trained focal points in over 50 international organizations in security management. She is the Chair for the Overseas Security Advisory Council faith-based organizations working group, a US Department of State private sector department. She was the security co-chair for the Interagency Working Group for Disaster Preparedness in East and Central Africa for several years. She also sat on the United Nations security and NGO working group where she helped mobilized safety and security training for over 1,000 aid workers in Kenya. Shannon is a military veteran who served as a law enforcement specialist in the US Air Force. 

Shannon served in Africa for 14 years as a humanitarian worker and missionary.  Her passion for work is fueled by “doing justice” for the oppressed and poor.  In her free time, she enjoys climbing things with her twin boys, biking, hiking and laughing with friends and family.


Featured Image: courtesy of Shannon Fariel-Mureithi

Because of the generality of the information on this site, it may not apply to a given place, time, or set of facts. It is not intended to be legal advice, and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations