How to Maintain Your Privacy on Social Media

The rapid growth and development of social media brought back memories of my time as a student in East Berlin. During my studies in Germany, I was first introduced to the Stasi and the techniques they employed to spy and exploit their own citizens.

I’m seeing a similar pattern again with social media. Consider that some people have lost their jobs or prominence for a Tweet made many years in the past, or in extreme cases due to actions of a spouse or loved one. If you value your privacy, consider some of the tips I’m offering.

The Turn Your Tables Approach to Social Media

As you’ll see in the tips that follow, consumers of social media can currently enjoy all the benefits without volunteering anything about themselves, which is what I encourage users to do. If everyone were to reduce their digital footprint on social media just a little bit, the providers would be forced to reckon with their flagrant privacy violations as the power would be back in the hands of the consumer.

#1. Don’t Volunteer Any of Your Personal Information on Social Media

If you are looking to protect your online privacy on social media, you’ll notice that Facebook and other applications want you to tell them as much about yourself as possible. It may feel good to have a “completed” profile but all you are doing is making yourself an easy target for annoying ads.

Because so many people are easily giving their information, you currently suffer no penalty for volunteering nothing. You can extend this as far as you want. You don’t need to use your real name or even your own photo. You can also share as little as you want. The beauty is that you still can enjoy all the benefits of the platform but have given up nothing in exchange. I find this is a better compromise than taking yourself off the platform completely.

#2. Review Public Settings on all Social Media Platforms

Unless you are trying to market yourself as a public personality, which should be a different account than your personal one, I strongly recommend sharing nothing public about yourself on Facebook. This is the best way to protect your personal information. There are only disadvantages for literally anyone in the world to know private information about yourself like your physical location, place of employment, or areas you’ve traveled to.

#3. Don’t Publish Your Travel Plans on Social Media Until You Come Back!

In the old days, people used to drop off their travel photographs to the photo lab for development after the vacation. I make the same suggestion here, don’t share your travel itinerary, there is no benefit to doing this, and put your travel photos after the event. People will still know you traveled.

I’m old school in the sense that I’d rather enjoy the trip for what it’s worth than document every moment. Of course you want to take photos, it’s normal but removing the burden of documenting everything for the sake of Facebook friends should make the trip more enjoyable. I actually began enjoying my travels after I stopped posting on Instagram.

#4. Think of Private Groups

Facebook does a poor job of allowing you to easily categorize your “friends.” This is my biggest dissatisfaction with the platform because there are some things I only want to share with those close to me. It takes effort but you can move your close friends into a group where only they can see what you are sharing. I feel this is the best compromise, unless you really want your co-workers, their friends, and friends of your friends to know about your diarrhea.

#5. LinkedIn is For Co-Workers, Not Facebook

We are ultimately the ones to judge how close we should get to our co-workers. It’s rare to work in the same place for a long time these days which is why I don’t think it is wise to allow co-workers into your private life, especially if you are new in the company. This is why we have LinkedIn, which is essentially a social network for business professionals.

#6. Create a Fake Account for Any Type of Controversial Comments / Opinions

Let’s consider the case of Justine Sacco to see an extreme case of what happens when someone risks making a joke. Before her flight to South Africa took off, Ms.Sacco tweeted the following message: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” Her attempt at a joke, albeit a tasteless one, caused her job loss and receipt of the world’s scorn. Another example is Adam Smith, his real name, who published a YouTube video ranting about Chick-fil-A’s attitudes towards gays and lesbians. The video went viral, forcing Mr. Smith to quit his job.

Naturally these are sensational examples, it’s why they make the news in the first place. Unfortunately, the cost/benefit of sharing opinions on social media is completely out of whack as even certain celebrities and public figures are retroactively being hunted down for opinions shared decades ago.

The solution is easy, just create a dummy account and to be safe a dummy email address to connect it to. Then go on Twitter or Facebook, wherever you wish and have at it.

#7. Self Censor, Even with Your Friends

Kyle Kashuv, a survivor of the Parkland Shootings is a known conservative gun right’s activist. His position on guns, especially in light of the shooting he survived, has made him a popular target in media circles. Having applied to Harvard last year and initially accepted, he was later publicly ousted by one of his so-called friends who leaked private Skype and Google doc comments that that were written in private group. The comments were tasteless of course, but the world is seriously walking around like the Flanders children as if they never once in their private lives made a joke that others would be hurt by or deemed offensive if it were heard in public.

It’s important to emphasize that these comments were made in private, it wasn’t a Tweet or even a public Facebook post. Nevertheless, it only took a jealous friend and a hypercritical media landscape to deny him access to one of America’s most prestigious schools, thereby changing the course of his life. If you think the same couldn’t happen to yourself or your teenage children, that would be quite a naive assumption. The lesson here is that once children are raised on technology they must be taught to self censor lest they be caught on the wrong side of the fence as was the case with Kashuv.

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