Using social media has connected us (or disconnected us, depending on your perspective) in ways we never knew or thought about before. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, LinkedIn, and the like have allowed us to network ourselves better, share our lives with our friends and family, and reconnect with old friends we haven’t heard from for a while. Of course, with all those services come risks, including risks to your privacy, identity theft, and malware. So how can you use these services securely?
Be aware of what you post, and what audience it may reach. Though you may only share with a few friends, you are also depending on THEIR privacy settings to protect your information. Have you ever had someone comment on a photo that you don’t even know? It may be because your friend has their settings more open than you do, and their friends (and friends of theirs) are able to see the post because you have tagged them in it, or shared it to the public. As we learned from Cambridge Analytica, it matters what your friends do, and how they protect their privacy, too. Don’t post things that you don’t want shared widely. Anything you post may become public, and may be seen by future employers, friends and family, or college recruiters.
Look, with any of these free services, be aware that you and your information are the product. That means that by using these services, you are agreeing to their terms. Anything you post or share may become their property, and they may track your internet browsing even when you’re not using their service. They sell your browsing history to advertisers, and likely have built a profile on you intended to help market specific items to you (which is why an ad for sneakers you looked for in Amazon shows up in Facebook).
Set privacy up as best you can by visiting the site’s privacy settings and limiting as much as you feel comfortable with. Cut back on the services and applications the social media site has access to, like photos and location tracking. Limit audiences for your posts. Don’t log in to new sites using your credentials from Facebook if you don’t want to set up a permanent connection between those two entities (use a spam email address to log in, perhaps). Don’t allow sites to track your location, and don’t post your location when you’re out of your house (giving thieves a perfect window to break in to your house). Wait til later to share those vacation pics from Tahiti. Delete old applications that you no longer want the social media site to have access to.
Be careful what you share. You know all those questions your bank and other companies ask to ‘verify your identity’ (like mother’s maiden name, pet’s name, high school mascot, etc.)? Remember that if you’ve used the correct responses there, people may use your social media profile to figure out the responses. Either go back and change the responses on those other sites (you can make up responses, no one will know except you), or ensure that none of that information is shared anywhere else.
Also, remember to check privacy settings frequently, as the sites frequently change the way they work. Get in the habit of checking those every couple months.
Visit your security settings frequently to see what may be offered. Use a long, strong password (or passphrase, even better!) to log in to your social media sites that you don’t use anywhere else. Take advantage of multi-factor authentication if it is offered (where you enter your passphrase and the service sends a one-time token code to your phone to verify you before you can log in). Check to see what devices have logged in to your account recently; if anything looks unfamiliar, remove it and change your passphrase to ensure only you are accessing your account. Turn alerts on so you know if a new device logs in to your account.
Be aware that scams are prevalent on social media sites. As always, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. If someone sends you an odd message, it may be that their account was compromised, so be suspicious of any links or attachments sent to you, especially if the phrasing resembles phishing or sounds different from normal. If you receive a friend request from someone you don’t know, or someone you are already friends with, delete it or report it. Let your friend know if you suspect their account may be compromised.
Re-read your employer's Social Media Policy to ensure you fall within their guidelines if you are posting anything work-related. Most employers require that you include some type of disclaimer that the thoughts you are expressing are your own, and you should never post confidential or proprietary information without explicit permission. Be aware that what you post may be used against you at work depending on their policies, so be sure you read up on their Code of Ethics.