Social media makes it very easy for strangers or professional contacts to get into our personal lives. With very little effort, someone can uncover photos and personal posts if you don’t protect yourself. Here are some of the ways that your privacy is jeopardized and how to stay protected.
The advent of social media has introduced a lot of new platforms for personal communication and professional networking. If you were to list the pros and cons of social media, among the advantages would probably be the ease of staying in touch with friends and colleagues, networking opportunities when you need to find work or new clients, and a means by which to promote yourself online. However, the con column has one big disadvantage: privacy infringement. It’s becoming easier and easier for photos that were meant to be private to wind up on other websites, and very personal information to be tracked down with little effort. In the age of social media, does privacy still exist at all?
When you sign up for a social media site like Twitter or Facebook, the default settings make your content available to anyone with an Internet connection and the 30 seconds required to create an account. This translates to the potential for stolen pictures, the ability of strangers to see where you are (thanks to GEO tagging), and employers being able to peruse your off-hours activities. The best thing you can do for your privacy is to change your settings so that everything is only available exclusively to your chosen friends and contacts. If you don’t change your settings, your privacy is pretty non-existent. Keep in mind that anyone who can see your profile can take a screen shot of it and you’ll never know.
Certain things on a social media profile can’t be made private. Your name and profile picture, for instance, will always be visible. In other words, if you choose to make your profile image one of you holding a beer while wearing a swimsuit, you can’t keep your boss from seeing it. When in doubt you should always use a benign image as your profile picture (or if privacy matters too much to you, don’t have one at all). Sites like LinkedIn and Facebook require you to give a full first and last name, making it pretty impossible to remain anonymous on the site. That being said, you can use a pseudonym if you want to without much chance of the site penalizing you. Images are also at risk when it comes to privacy – others can download your pictures without your knowledge, and then post them elsewhere on the Web.
The images that other people take from your social media pages have the potential to live on forever.
For instance, someone might download copies of your Facebook pictures and even if you unfriend them later, they’ll still have your photos on their computer. Other complications to Facebook privacy include being contacted by someone who is impersonating another individual, and having people take screen captures of something you post as a status update and then sharing with other people who are not on your friend list or meant to see the content. You may lose a job, fail to get hired in the first place, or even be the victim of identity theft if you’re not careful.
Where to Draw the Line
There are many factors that blur the line between public and personal information. Content that you intend to be private may wind up in a public forum unless you are extraordinarily careful about what you post in the first place.
When in doubt, don’t post a status update or photo that you wouldn’t feel comfortable being shared with someone at work or being posted to a public bulletin board. In the worst case scenario – that’s exactly where it will wind up. Only add contacts to social media sites that you are familiar with in the real world [ take that advice with a grain of salt 😉 ], and create filtered lists so that only your closest friends can see some of your more personal data.