Is it necessary to escape data when storing it in the user's meta-data? I'm not sure if WP does this automatically, or if it is even necessary. Also, if it is necessary, should I use mysql_real_escape_string via sanatize_meta?
I'm storing a URL.
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Yes, it's a good practice to sanitize input and escape output. It's important to use the correct function, though, so that you don't inadvertently mess up your data.
Since it's for a URL, use
esc_url_raw() (it is specifically for db usage).
(Note: it may seem odd using a function with the "esc_" stem for sanitizing, since I just stated sanitize input, escape output, but this particular function specifically the deprecated