The Ultimate Guide to Social Media and Privacy


We humans are social beings. Though some people may prefer their own company to that of others, most people crave some level of connectivity, of being a valued part of a network. Humans by nature seek to invite others into their lives, to share in their joy, pain, successes, failures and what they just ate for breakfast (especially if it photographs well).

So it’s no wonder that we took to the internet and social media specifically like moths to a flame. The first social media networks like Friendster and Facebook proved the medium’s power as a great way to keep in touch with old acquaintances and to meet new people. But one of the natural by-products of this hyper-connectivity has been hyper-sharing. Social media platforms turned out to be the perfect place for people to showcase their lives with every one of their thousands of connections – from people they knew to others they connected with on a whim.

Let the Sharknado Data Feeding Frenzy Begin

Marketers and advertisers (and criminals too) picked up on this behavior and realized that all this data could be used create razor-targeted marketing campaigns. And thus data soon became the new marketing gold. Today, marketers track and analyze just about everything you do and say on social media and the internet in general. And unless you’re actively trying to prevent them from peering into every aspect of your life, they’ll figure out just where to look to get the data they want. This unquenchable thirst for your data is one of the foremost culprits that make using the internet and social media quite so perilous.

Can Privacy and Social Media Co-exist?

While some pundits proclaim the need to end your relationship with social media if you value your privacy, the truth is that there are some things you can do to reclaim what’s yours, without liquidating your presence. So in honor of Safer Internet Day, here are 10 easy-enough steps you can take to reestablish your long-lost privacy:

How to Protect Your Privacy on Social Media

Be a connection snob – Realize that you don’t need to accept every friend/connection request you get. The fewer people you are connected to, the smaller your personal attack surface is. So be a snob and just say “no”.

Don’t post personal info – So you’re dying to post pictures of your skiing trip to Vale. Or you’d love to shout from the rooftops (okay, your smartphone) that your kid got into her top choice University. Resist your urge to post everything because this is exactly what advertisers collect to make their composite profile of you. In the same vein, don’t include your phone number, actual birthdate or any other personal information in your accounts wherever feasible. Sharing less information is always a smart rule of thumb.

Take advantage of Privacy Settings – Making sure your privacy settings are enabled properly will go a long way to helping you maintain your right to confidentiality. Each platform has its own settings and ways they can be customized – here is a quick overview of how to enable them on some of the biggest platforms:

Facebook: The big FB allows you to choose from four settings which provide varying levels of privacy. You can choose from:

  • Only me – Only you will be able to see your content (we’re not quite sure where the fun in this setting is, but we guess we’re happy it’s available)
  • Custom – Allows you share or block content with certain people or lists
  • Friends – Only friends will be able to see this content
  • Public – Anyone, anywhere can see this content

Instagram: On this visuals-driven platform, all posts are public by default, which means they can be see by anyone at any time. You can change this setting by going to the “Edit your profile” tab and enabling the “Posts are private” setting.

Twitter: By default, anyone, whether they have a Twitter account or not, can see your tweets. Change this by going to “Settings” and choosing “security and privacy”. Where it says “privacy”, pick the option that says “protect my tweets” — now only people that you select can see your tweets and your tweets will not come up in Google searches.

Use better passwords – Passwords are an annoying and ridiculous part of the digital world. There. We said it. But while we really hate coming up with unique and complex passwords, they are what’s standing between our social media accounts and those entities looking to breach them — therefore, it’s worthwhile to understand what goes into making one that’s rock-solid. Make sure your password:

  • is at least 10 characters long
  • uses numbers, capitals, and special characters
  • contains no names or words found in the dictionary

Another important point — make sure to never reuse passwords from one social media account to another.

This is also a good place to mention the value of implementing multi-factor authentication. Sure, it makes it a bit more complicated to enter your accounts, but it also makes them far more secure. Read all about enabling multi-factor authentication across your social platforms here.

Use a reputable antivirus and firewall – Even if you’re super careful on social media, malware may still make its way on to your system if it’s improperly patched or vulnerable somehow. Make sure you have a solid antivirus and firewall security solution in place to catch and quarantine any infiltrators.

Manage your third party apps – You may love a good game of Texas Hold’em or Cookie Jam but these apps may be seriously compromising your privacy. When you allow access to these apps, you’re giving them access to all the data stored in your social media accounts. It’s smart to review your third party app permissions on a regular basis, revoking access to the ones you no longer use.

Don’t store payment information – If you want to send cash to a friend in a flash, don’t mind paying for brain numbing games, or have a small business and use social media ads as part of your marketing strategy, this tip is for you. It’s essential to never store payment information in your accounts – if your beloved platform gets breached, there goes your credit card details too. If you already have your payment information stored there, go delete it immediately.

Avoid clickbait, fake news, and free downloads – Social media loves controversy and nothing gets shared like clickbait and fake news. The really bad news about this is that these posts often contain malicious links that may load privacy-sapping malware onto your devices. The same goes for free downloads that are often shared around social media platforms — these links are often stuffed with malware. So be smart and keep away from inflammatory titles, gut-wrenching subject lines and free stuff.

Turn off location services – Here is something you probably don’t want to think about – when your social media location services are enabled, you are broadcasting your location each time you post pictures and status updates. Not only does this mean that criminals know when you’re out and about, which may provide them with a window of time in which they can break into your home, it means that super creepy criminals can trail you. We mean physically follow you.

While it’s a lot of fun to post pics of yourself on that white sand beach with a lime daiquiri in hand, telling bad guys where you are and aren’t is a really bad idea. Location services can be turned off on most, if not all, social media platforms. A simple search within each platform will help you find instructions on how to do it for each one.

Beware of phishing scams – Scammers love social media. We all know about the horror stories – the US army vet who got swindled out of his life savings by a Facebook “friend”. The well-intentioned donors who meant to pledge their hard earned money to hurricane and tsunami victims, but got bamboozled by fake Red Cross Facebook pages. And in case you were thinking it’s just a Facebook problem, think again; LinkedIn has its fair share of job-related scams, where victims have been known to supply scammers with incredibly damaging information, including their bank account details and social security numbers.

Snapchat and Instagram scams are rampant too, ranging from weight loss scams to bitcoin scams to scams that promise to add thousands of followers to your account overnight. Then there are influencer scams, wherein a supposed “influencer” promises to teach you their secret to fame and wealth – all for the low, low price of $1000-2000.

Every social media platform comes with the inherent risk of phishing scams so never let your guard down.

While you don’t need to completely detach yourself from social media if you value your privacy, you do need to understand the risks and act accordingly. The internet is filled with all kinds of pitfalls and social media is one of the worst offenders. The most important piece of advice for successfully navigating the murky waters of maintaining privacy on social media is to always keep your wits about you and never trust anything or anybody. Period.

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