Securing Your Privacy on Social Media

Keeping things private on social media might sound like an oxymoron. After all, some of the benefits of the different platforms are to connect with people around the world, to make new friends over shared views, and to engage with strangers in order to understand our differences. But if you’re not aware of the privacy pitfalls that each different platform carries, you may be inviting a threat to your security.

There are two great rules of thumb that every social media user has to keep in mind when posting online: despite your privacy settings, nothing is every truly private on the internet, and nothing is ever deleted.

Facebook

As one of the most widely used global social media platforms, it’s become a mainstay of everyday life for a lot of people. But just changing your settings to “friends only” and thinking you’re truly corralled in a protective bubble isn’t really accurate. You have to remember that a lot of your content can be shared by your own friends and family. Even photographs, which can’t easily be shared with those outside of your circle just by clicking a button, can be cut-and-pasted or screenshot captured.

A number of upset parents, for example, have discovered their own pictures being used by other Facebook users. Some stolen pictures have even been used to commit fraud, such as soliciting donations for “this poor baby with cancer.” 

Twitter 

Another platform that carries with it a few privacy considerations. If Facebook is a way to connect with friends and family by reciprocating (meaning, following each other), Twitter works in almost the opposite way. Its goal is to connect you with virtual strangers, since anyone is allowed to follow you without your permission. You are not required to see their posts, though, so you may eventually reach a point where you have no idea who is seeing your original content, your shared tweets, and other posts. 

One concern Twitter users might have is that their tweets can appear in search engines. If you conduct a Google search for a specific current event topic, you may very well find individuals’ tweets in the results. That usually doesn’t cause anyone any problems, but it does mean that people can see your posts without you knowing about it. To change that, Twitter offers users a setting in the menu to prevent their tweets from being routed to search engines. 

Instagram

An increasingly popular photo-based site that also offers the option to make posts public or private. Considering the very personal and sometimes sensitive nature of photographs, some experts recommend changing your entire account to only display to friends and family. However, the screenshot warning still applies, and those who are using Instagram to reach audiences with their work (like actors, artists, photographers, and more) need to be able to reach a large audience and have their content shared. 

Snapchat

This app is constantly makes headlines for its often-tenuous connections to negative situations. That’s not the platform’s fault, but its very method makes it more likely to be used for less-than-savory purposes. A long-held belief about the company was that it was actually founded for the specific purpose of sending explicit content to others without the recipient being able to keep a copy of it. 

The first problem is that users quickly figured out how they could actually grab a copy of whatever you sent, so it’s not a “safe” platform in that regard. The other issue is that Snapchat claims it does not keep a copy of anything its users send, and therefore your private communications are protected. That turned out not to be true when hackers broke into the servers for several cellular providers; Snapchat may not be storing your naked pictures, but companies like Verizon and others do store the content for security purposes (it’s how the police can nab a criminal through cell phone records and SMS messages).

It’s important the users understand there are a lot more platforms than just these few, and that all of them have their weaknesses when it comes to your security. The most important privacy setting isn’t in your account, though, it’s in your own behavior. Never post anything—a photograph, a viewpoint, or even an offhand reply to someone else’s post—that you would not want shared with others.

Anyone can be a victim of identity theft, anyone can use our services, and anyone can help us help others. If you found this information useful, please consider donating to the Identity Theft Resource Center to help us keep our services free to the public.

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