The internet has brought greater connectivity than ever before, especially since the advent of social media. But with all the platforms out there, it can be hard to decide where to spend your online time. Even worse, spreading your information across all of the websites’ can lead to a greater chance that data miners—people who glean your information off of websites legally but for illegal purposes—will get enough information about you to create a “big picture,” then use that information for illegal purposes.
So how do you know which social media platform is right for you? Here’s a look at some of the top sites, along with information you need in order to protect yourself:
- Facebook – This site is widely popular with consumers and businesses alike. It’s arguably the highest trafficked social media website, and literally billions of users connect each day. One of the great things about Facebook is your ability to seemingly control who you connect with. You can set your privacy settings to different levels, including one that only lets your family and friends see your content. The first real danger is in accepting friend requests from accounts that look legitimate (from people you think you know), but are actually fraudulent accounts. Beyond that, your biggest worry will be making sure you don’t “overshare” and put too much personal information out there, especially your pictures (see Instagram below). Remember that all of your friends can share photos of you too, meaning it’s no longer only accessible to your small group of connections, which is how a photo or video goes “viral.”
- Twitter – Twitter is a great tool for marketing purposes, but a lot of individuals have accounts because it’s a way to find new friends in a low-pressure internet environment; it’s also good for finding snippets of information, like following your local news channel who will “tweet” headlines and links to articles. With Twitter, you’re not connected to people in the same way that you are on Facebook; there’s no give-and-take. People may “follow” you, but you’re under no obligation to follow back. At the same time, you can follow your favorite celebrity, and he may not follow you back. Twitter simply allows you to send out brief statements, links, and photos without a lot of details.
- Instagram – The photo sharing site is quickly becoming one of the top social media sites because it works almost like a combination of Facebook and Twitter. You are not as limited in how long your post is, and you can still post pictures and add captions. People follow you on Instagram much like they do on Twitter, but you’re under no obligation to follow them back. As with any photo sharing, though, make sure the geolocation setting is turned OFF on your phone or tablet before you take and post the picture to keep others from finding the GPS coordinates to where the photo was taken.
- Snapchat – This site was created with the intentional purpose of letting users send messages to each other that may contain…um, “sensitive”…content. A user can send a message, video, or photo and the recipient can see it of course, but then the message disappears forever from the recipient’s phone or device. This prevents the recipient from sharing a video or photo that the sender might not want others to see. That was the theory, anyway. While Snapchat has stated that the content is gone for good from its servers, it didn’t count on the fact that the cellular service providers (like AT&T and Verizon) have their own regulations and their own servers. Hackers broke into those servers in 2014 and allegedly accessed hundreds of thousands of photos and videos that Snapchat users had sent. Snapchat can still have its uses for some social media fans, but it should serve as a warning to all of us that nothing is ever gone from the internet.
- Foursquare – Comedians had a field day with Foursquare when it first launched because the theory behind it doesn’t sound very safe. Users sign up with Foursquare and then when they go somewhere like a restaurant, a theater, or thousands of other locations, they can send out a message over Facebook or Twitter saying that they’ve “checked in” at these locations. It’s great for businesses who want social media users to tell their friends that they’re at this cool new bar, for example, but not so great if you realize you’ve just told the entire internet that you’re not home, and that you’re actually four hours away. Foursquare can have benefits – such as discovering restaurants near you, or finding free activities in a new city.
- Google+/LinkedIn – These are two of the many social media platforms that are ideal for career professionals, business people, and other employment-related sharing. It’s also great if you join a specific group, like a writer’s group or an antique car enthusiasts groups. These sites are well-suited for work updates and sharing articles related to your business or interest.
This is just a scratch at the surface of the social media sites available to users. No matter where you choose to conduct your online sharing behavior, make sure you follow some simple safety rules. Be mindful of posting personal information about yourself or your family members, even something as innocuous as your birth date. Carefully consider the photos you post and make sure you cannot be traced through the embedded geolocation code in the photo’s file. Finally, be aware that some things are best kept to in-person interactions, ones that don’t invite the entire internet to come take a look.