When you have to adjust to limiting your prose to a maximum 140 characters, each letter, number, and symbol takes on more significance, and oftentimes many of these characters comprise a link’s lengthy URI. Uniform Resource Identifiers (often identified as URLs) are a series of characters that correspond to the name of a site online. As social networks rise to prominence in our online interactions, so does the use of URL shorteners like TinyURL or Bit.ly.
A problem arose when people became so comfortable with the shortened links that they stopped being cautious when clicking on them. Cybercriminals, as you can imagine, were quick to exploit such carelessness. They found that people were much more likely to click on links from people that they knew, so social networks were the perfect vehicle. They also discovered that the less text, the better. If you were to see, for example, a message from a friend with the subject or content, “OMG, is this you?”, your mind could race back with horror to last weekend’s fuzzy memories. In the interest of staving off the possibility of embarrassing pictures, you click on the link. Unfortunately, you’ve just fallen for the scam, putting your computer and your friends’ computers at risk.
What to do? Sometimes all it takes is a quick scroll over the shortened URL to reveal the actual identifier, but not always. Luckily, other sites offer solutions of which you should be aware; one is ExpandMyURL. This handy site allows you to paste in any shortened link to reveal the expanded version. They also offer a handy little bookmark option that you drag into your toolbar. When you have a page open in your browser and click the bookmark, it differentiates safe links with green text, leaving you free to click away!