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This article is part of a series that aims to shed light on critical privacy issues for our clients. Our goal is to offer straightforward guidance on how you can protect yourself and your family in this age of proliferating cybercrime. You can find our previous articles on protecting your physical assets, spam and phishing, and simplifying complex passwords.


By David Koch

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Foursquare, Yelp, Periscope, Google Plus, Tumblr, Orkut, YouTube, Vimeo, Disqus, Plinkobon, Farmtread, Spiqulous—OK, I made the last three up, but you get the picture. Our lives are increasingly online. While these apps are tools for keeping connected with friends and family, you can take a few simple steps to make your social media experience both more enjoyable and safer.

The numbers are in, and they are staggering. As of September 2016, Facebook had over 1.7 billion monthly active users. Not just people with accounts, but people who logged into their account in the prior month. Over 1.1 billion of those are daily active users, which means that approximately 15% of the world logs into their Facebook account every day. Like I said, staggering. We also upload a whopping 300 million photos to Facebook every day. That’s over 200,000 per minute.

Because of the sheer popularity and ubiquity of Facebook, we’ll focus much of the discussion there, but most of these best practices can be applied to other social media outlets. First, some basics.

Don’t use the same password for any social media site that you do for anything else.

If, for example, Plinkobon gets hacked and you use the same username and password for your Chase Bank account: Now they can get into your bank account. Use unique passwords for all your online accounts. You can read our suggestions on how to do that here. Second, keep in mind that everything you put online may, and likely will, be stored and be publicly accessible forever.

Don’t confuse your wall with your messages.

Many social media frameworks have both a public side and a private side. How private the private side is… we’ll table that for another discussion, but in Facebook, the public side is called a wall (in Twitter it is called a feed). All users have their own wall, and it is a person’s wall that you are taken to when you click on his or her name. People can post things on either their own wall, or someone else’s wall. Anything that gets posted to someone’s wall should be considered public and, depending on her or his privacy settings, could be out there for the world to see.

The private side is a message. Facebook Messenger is an instant messenger—a chat box, which is similar to email but much less formal. If the person is online at the time, he or she will receive notification of the message instantly. You can see who is online. If you don’t want that information to appear about yourself, here’s how to turn it off. The feature is called “Chat,” and when you’re online in your Facebook account you’ll see a column of people on the right side of the screen. At the very bottom you’ll see a tiny gray symbol of a gear. Click there and then click Turn off Chat.

Do check your privacy settings.

Most social media platforms allow their users to view and modify their privacy settings. For Facebook, click on the icon of the lock in the top blue bar and then do their “Privacy Checkup.” This will walk you through a series of steps, the first showing you who sees your posts. I would lean towards not using “Public” posts for anything. Using “Friends” or “Friends of Friends” will keep things slightly more private.

Next, they’ll show you the apps that you’ve granted access to your Facebook information, and which audience you’ve granted them permission to share with. You didn’t know that your Candy Crush app was annoying everyone with posts five times a day? If you use the app, consider switching the visibility to “Only Me.” You won’t likely lose any features. If you no longer use the app, or don’t recognize it, by all means delete it. I just deleted 15 out of my profile.

The last step is choosing what personal information you share with the world. I let my friends see my phone number (in case they lose their phone) and email. I share my birthday, but I obscure the year, and I share my hometown. I also share my college and high school information and my family members, but that’s about it. I would lean towards not adding your workplaces (unless you’re trying to reconnect with former colleagues—but there’s LinkedIn for that). Nor would I suggest adding places you’ve lived—that information could come up to verify you on a credit application.

Do use the Friends Lists and Groups feature.

The most underutilized feature of many social media platforms, in my opinion, is the ability to create groups, or as Facebook calls them, “Friend Lists.” Look down the left column in Facebook for the white and blue icon labeled “Friend Lists.” By default Facebook starts you off with three: Close Friends, Acquaintances, and Restricted:

“Close Friends: Friends you may want to share exclusively with. You will get notifications when they post, but can turn these extra notifications off at any time.

Acquaintances: People you might want to share less with. You can choose to exclude these people when you post something, by choosing Friends except Acquaintances in the audience selector.

Restricted: This list is for people you’ve added as a friend but just don’t want to share with, like your boss. When you add someone to your Restricted list, they will only be able to see your Public content or posts of yours that you tag them in.”

I would suggest starting with these three groups. Personally, I turned off notifications for my close friends. I just don’t need to be notified every time my brother takes a quiz on Buzzfeed. They’re funny, but I just don’t need to be notified.

For even smaller groups, use the aptly named Groups feature. In your Facebook account online, look for the blue circle icon Groups link in the left column under Explore. Click on it and there will be a green “Create Group” button in the upper right corner. By creating a group you can Closed Group where anyone can find it and see who is in it, but you must approve members, and only members can see posts. I use one of these with my neighbors to schedule get-togethers and such.

You can also create a Secret Group, which is not searchable and is by invite only. A Secret Group doesn’t need to involve anything super-clandestine; I am in one of these with members of my community garden. Facebook can be a great tool to connect with people, just be cognizant about whom you’re publishing to.

Which leads us to our last tip:

Know your audience.

Don’t friend people whom you don’t know—and think twice about friending people whom you have no intention of actually being friends with. If you feel some sort of obligation, then accept their request but immediately move them to the Restricted or Acquaintance list. Don’t wait to do it later, you’ll likely forget. Remember, these “friends” are the people who are going to see your posts. I have a bunch of friends on Facebook that I went to elementary school with. If I ever want to reach out to them, I can, but they don’t need to see pictures of my kids.

Make sure you are using each platform for its intended purposes, e.g., you wouldn’t use LinkedIn for posting vacation photos any more than you would use Twitter to post pictures of your grandkids (if you’re even wondering—you wouldn’t).

In conclusion, be cognizant of the group that you are sharing with. Unless you are paid to manage a social media account, it is not recommended that you share anything with the public. And even if you only share things with your friends, it may be in your best interest to manage different groups of friends. The heated presidential race of 2016 was a good example. If you don’t want to be bombarded with friends’ political posts on social media, unfriending them isn’t your only option. You could simply put them on your Restricted list, even if it’s just for the time being.



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