Growing a personal brand from your bedroom has become big business for social media influencers — the industry has an estimated value of around $16.4 billion in 2022. But as follower numbers rise and viewer counts increase, so do the risks faced by online celebrities.
This threat was recently highlighted by the case of Ava Majury, a 15-year-old influencer who has more than 1.2 million followers on TikTok. Her father Rob, a retired police lieutenant, shot and killed an alleged online stalker attempting to enter the family home in Naples, Florida.
Similar headlines have become familiar with Gabbie Hanna, a content creator with more than six million subscribers, being among the influencers to have spoken out about the rising security risks. One of the main security challenges posed is the sheer scale and frequency of online contacts and interactions.
To mitigate the potential of fans or even stalkers coming too close, strategies can be developed that combine the power of real-time monitoring and artificial intelligence (AI)-powered alerts with the knowledge and experience of security professionals.
Here is a look at how this can be achieved.
1. Acknowledge the risks
All parties involved — influencers, parents/guardians, management and the security team — need to understand the risks and to establish a coordinated plan. An effective strategy requires good communication and a proactive approach with responsibilities mapped and protocols in place for identifying and tackling threat elements.
This starts with a risk assessment, emergency plans and practical advice to guide an influencer on what kinds of personal information they should and should not be sharing. Awareness is key — background details in a seemingly innocuous Instagram photo can be used to determine an influencer’s location. Open source data aggregators may reveal an influencer’s or their relative’s home addresses and phone numbers.
2. Monitor threats
Real-time data monitoring and AI alerts are essential tools for effectively managing the constant nature of online interactions. With follower counts in the millions, content is being shared 24/7 — making it virtually impossible to secure without AI assistance.
An effective Security as a Service (SaaS) solution provides real-time monitoring of social media activities, using analytics to identify user patterns and behaviors that pose a potential risk. The systems can sift through a mass of data and flag the messages that require a closer look and even use geofencing to track individuals’ movements.
3. Interpret the data
The results of automated risk monitoring need to be interpreted using the human experience and knowledge of security and investigation professionals. This allows false alerts to be easily identified and adjustments made to the filters that are being used by the monitoring software.
Familiarity with online communities allows an operator to distinguish between typical online trolling and patterns of behavior that hint at a more dangerous trajectory. Combining this human intuition with the risk data provides an effective way to spot risks and identify escalations.
4. Create risk profiles
When a potential risk is identified, a profile is created to build a picture of the person behind the online identity. A user’s data trail can be used to start filling in the gaps: who they are, where they live, what they do and whether they have a criminal record.
The information is used to create an evolving database of active risk users which can be shared across a network to pool and update knowledge. The more information that’s added, the more accurate assessments become when judging the appropriate level of risk for each individual.
5. Take appropriate action
Combining data, analysis and background profiles — an assessment should determine a threat level for each risk user and the appropriate actions to take. Users who, after investigation, are found not to pose a threat, should be deprioritized while strategies are agreed upon for ongoing risks.
Responses need to be coordinated across the relevant stakeholders — whether it’s an influencer advisory or a notification, warning or account ban for the risk element. Where the threat level is high, this will involve emergency plans and sharing information with law enforcement to quickly ensure the influencer is secure and protected.
Combining tech and hands-on training
It is the combination of digital tools and traditional security expertise that provides the key for effective handling of influencer risks. It creates the kind of scalable and sustainable process that can identify and tackle issues before they are allowed to become the kind of incidents that put lives at risk.
This article originally ran in Security, a twice-monthly security-focused eNewsletter for security end users, brought to you by Security Magazine. Subscribe here.