The best is to have two profiles on social media, public and secret, and avoid Russian or Belarusian social networks. Recommendations are given based on the experience of Digital Skills Coalition Belarus with practical cases on user security in Belarus and beyond.
Comments, likes, posts, and reshare – any action on social media can put a person in Belarus at risk. It is pretty challenging to choose more or less dangerous acts nowadays.
For example, a person may be prosecuted for participating in communities that are considered extremist. In practice, citizens are persecuted for everyday actions on social media done six months, two years, or even five years ago. Today these actions are recognized as spreading extremist materials. For example, social networks and publications on http://www.Hrodna.life have been identified as extremist materials. Anybody who did a publication with a link to this website will be an extremist to authorities. There are also new trends: the hashtag #FreeBelarus has been identified as extremist. Anyone who ever used the hashtag #FreeBelarus can be prosecuted.
Not all social networks are equally safe for users in Belarus. Suppose you choose from Facebook, Instagram, Vkontakte, and Odnoklassniki. In that case, it is better to avoid the last two. The reason is that Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki are under the jurisdiction of Russia. They can give user data at the request of the security forces from Belarus (including all messages deleted or edited by users). In these social networks, it is better not to have compromising evidence on yourself, even in personal communication.
What to do with existing pages? It seems impossible to clean all social networks from “wrong” reshares or likes once left. Social networks allow seeing users’ actions from the time of creation.
For non-technical users, the easiest way is to delete an account and create a new one without cleaning up old actions. Another option is to delete all friends and close showing your publication to anyone except you.
For more advanced users, we suggest the following strategy: create two pages – official and secret. The official page must be new and “sterile.” That is, it must be maintained following Belarusian legislation and repression tendencies. This means that the page should not contain any groups, comments, or likes that could hypothetically compromise you in the eyes of security services.
Suppose you want to save a personal archive of your social media account. In that case, you can export the entire profile and store it on your device(Facebook and Vkontakte allow this).
The second profile will become your alternate personality. What should be remembered when creating an alternative social media profile? The main thing is not to associate it with your natural person and ensure that you are not found on the Internet by your real-life trails. How can this be done? Through:
- Search by image
- Email snippet
- Name and place of work
- Using the nickname on other sites (forums).
For example, to find a high-profile criminal, law enforcement sometimes found a connection with a natural person based on the nickname created by the same person on the internet back in 1999.