Being a social media hermit is not an option for many of us. However, the Cambridge Analytica scandal reminded us all that when we are on social media, we are often not the customer but the product. Facebook’s customers are its advertisers.

What Are the Risks?

There are a number of risks associated with your social media profile.

    1. Identity theft. Thieves may in some cases be able to use the information in your profile to steal your identity. A lot of people casually put in their birth date, address, etc. Even if these things aren’t set public, they can still leak.
    1. If you are looking for a new job, your prospective employer may do a social media background check. Regardless of how you feel about the practice, employers are looking for things like you bad mouthing your previous boss, making bigoted comments, lying about your qualifications, or posting things which are inappropriate. If you are applying for a position which requires good communication skills, they may scan your timeline for evidence that you do indeed have them. Like it or not, they may also – consciously or otherwise – pay attention to your political views.
    1. You may be cyberstalked. Cyberstalking is sometimes an extension of physical stalking, where your annoying ex won’t leave you alone. However, people will cyberstalk complete strangers, acquaintances, ex friends, etc. Your social media profile can reveal your physical location, especially if you use Foursquare. It may also give access to your cell phone number so the stalker can call you repeatedly at 3am.
    1. Those creepy ads. As mentioned, Facebook’s customers are their advertisers, not their users. You may or may not mind the highly targeted ads on Facebook itself, but this information can be sold to other companies and result in you seeing ads on other networks.
  1. Warrantless searches. Katz v. the United States, in 1967, determined that information you willingly make public is not protected by the Fourth Amendment. This means your social media posts… even the ones marked friends only. Can you trust any of your friends not to make something you posted public?

stay safe on public wifi

9 Must-Do Things to Protect Yourself

So, how do you keep your social media profile protected and quiet? There are a number of things you can do.

#1 Use a good password

Too many people use low-quality passwords on social media, either because they are not good at passwords in general or because they don’t see it as that important. Change your password regularly, and come up with something you can remember that still contains capital letters and punctuation.

#2 Consider enabling two-factor authentication

This will tend to get in the way, and you may not want to do it if you don’t always have your phone or if you are traveling overseas. Usually, these apply only to new devices, but they do have a habit of suddenly forgetting your computer.

#3 Watch out for both email phishing and phishing via the network itself

The latter takes the form of the classic “Click to restore your account” email. No social media network sends out these kinds of messages. The hackers then use this to get access to your Facebook account. The next stage is when they send Facebook messages to all of your friends. If you get a strange message from a friend, tell them by a means other than Facebook. Never click on any links.

#4 Beware dummy profiles

If you get a mysterious friend request from somebody who has no friends and no public posts, decline it. If you accept it, they will then send out a tricky message, sometimes trying to steal your credentials, alternatively committing advertising fraud. Another thing which can happen is conmen who are seeking out specific individuals to get money out of. For example, there is a common Facebook scam where individuals pretending to be members of the U.S. military deployed overseas contact women, usually but not always single women, with “lonely hearts” message and eventually get them to send messages. (For extra ick factor, they often use pictures from obituaries…)

#5 Assume that anything you post on social media may end up being made public

Even if all of your “friends” can be trusted, privacy settings getting changed or reset can happen. Don’t post your address and phone number. Don’t reveal your location, and avoid using check-in apps, especially if you think somebody may be stalking you. Avoid posting things which may embarrass a future employer. No nudes. Please, no nudes.

#6 Don’t announce your vacation until after you get back

This tells burglars your home is empty. While Instagramming your vacation in real time is a lot of fun, it also says there’s nobody at home. Either don’t do it, or send it only to your approved followers. Keep geotagging turned off most of the time.

#7 Periodically go through the apps that have access to your social media profile and revoke any you no longer use

For example, that game you got bored with months ago. Do not install apps that offer to get you more likes or followers.

#8 Always check your privacy settings

Check them again frequently, as glitches or breaches can make things mysteriously go to the public. Make sure that each post is sent to the correct audience. If you don’t need a worldwide audience on Twitter, then you can click a toggle to hide your tweets from everyone except your followers. This is a good idea for personal accounts Do not turn on Tweet with a location. You can also turn off photo tagging.

#9 Avoid logging on from public WiFi or use a VPN to encrypt and protect your data when you do so

A VPN can also be used to make it look like you are posting from home (so as to hide travel) or to access social networks if you are in a country where they are blocked.

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