Social media is a really great tool. It’s important for businesses to reach their customers, for agencies to share widespread messages, and for families and friends to keep up with one another. But it becomes a lot less great when tech users aren’t actually aware of how it works or how to protect themselves online.
One of the most popular social media sites is Facebook, and with almost 2 billion registered users around the world, it’s a great way to find and connect with people, businesses, even celebrities. Unfortunately, with so many people using it, it’s also filled with scams, enables cyberbullying and doxxing behaviors, and is a treasure trove of inappropriate or offensive content.
It’s absolutely vital that social media users understand a few key things about their Facebook accounts—specifically their privacy settings—before they head off into uncharted internet territory. Some of these tips will just give you peace of mind, while others are actually important to safeguarding your identity and even your physical safety.
- When you first establish your Facebook account, you’ll have the option of setting your account to public, friends only, or completely private. This setting is changeable later, so don’t worry if you didn’t set it to the safest possible choice when you created your account. And while many users have become more cautious and have opted for “friends only” settings that mean only accepted friends will be able to see their content, that’s actually a little bit misleading. Sure, strangers won’t see their original posts, but they will see things like cover photos, profile pictures, shared posts that the account holder shares from someone else’s account, and more. At the same time, anything a Facebook user posts—such as a picture of her children—can be shared by any of her friends to their accounts.
- Whenever you post something online, there are multiple indicators that let you select who can see it. That way, if you’re posting a personal photo, you can keep it set to just your friends, but if you’re sharing an announcement about a charity bake sale, you can set it so that anyone can see it. If in doubt, though, ask yourself whether or not you really want to share it.
- Photographs and videos are very common sources of shared content. It’s what makes social media…well, social. But if you’re taking those photos with your smartphone or tablet, you may be accidentally telling others where the image was taken. And no, not just “Cincinnati,” but “my four-year-old’s bedroom, on Baker Street, the third house on the left after you pass the fire hydrant.” Through a process called “geotagging,” your device actually grabs the GPS coordinates to where you were when you took the picture and embeds it in the photo’s file. With the right know-how, a criminal can pull that location out of your photo. Are there hordes of criminals scouring Facebook in order to find their next victim in people’s unprotected, geotagged photographs? Probably not. But is it a good idea to include that location? Again, probably not. Just turn off the Location setting before taking any photographs with your device, especially if you’re going to upload them.
- One of the ways that your name and content can accidentally be shared among people you don’t know is if you’re “tagged” in someone else’s post. If your sister attaches your name to her post, then everyone she knows can see it, just like they can see your comments on her post. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it should be something you keep in mind when you’re using social media.
You have to remember one of the often-overlooked rules of the internet: nothing is ever private, and nothing is ever deleted. If you make sure to keep that in mind whenever you share, post, or upload to social media, then you should be safe because your content won’t be highly-sensitive or give too much away. When we act under the false impression that our content is only visible to the people we want to see it, then we have to worry about security.