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September 16, 2021

Privacy Tip of the Week: Stay Private on Social Media

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As of 2021, roughly 3.78 billion people were on social media. Within the next five years, that number is expected to climb well above 4 billion. And is that a surprise? Simply put, no. Since their inception way back in 1996, with a platform called Six Degrees, social media has come to dominate the world, both in the digital realm and the physical one. It’s growing increasingly more difficult to lead a functional life without being connected to social media in some way, to the point where even applying for jobs can be hampered by the lack of a social media presence; some employers are now distrustful of completely offline candidates.

This is a problem for a number of reasons, but one of the biggest stems from social platforms’ indiscriminate use of customer data and abuse of customer privacy. So, in a world where social media dominates, is it possible to stay connected while also enjoying a degree of privacy? While there is no perfect answer, we have a few tips to help you stay private on social media:

  • Why should you reduce your social media exposure?
  • The privacy and security risks of social media
  • How to increase your social media privacy

Why Should You Reduce Your Social Media Exposure?

There are dozens of social media platforms online, some of the most popular being Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat. Each platform has a unique sales proposition, which just means they each have a specific “gimmick” to get people to sign up. For example, Instagram is a visual-only platform; no text posts here. Meanwhile, Snapchat allows users to share content, but only for a brief window of time, whereas Facebook acts as a catalogue of your life, accepting all forms of content from text posts to photos and videos, to comments, likes, and other interactions with others, where they will be stored until you delete them (or not). 

Despite their gimmicks, the collective goal of all social platforms is to connect with others by sustaining or building relationships online. Connection seems like a great thing, especially in a world that seems more divided every day. However, there are some extensive and well-documented risks associated with using social media platforms. They include:

A Lack of Privacy

When you put your whole life online for display, it shouldn’t be a surprise that some parties can use any and all information about you to damage your privacy. We’ll discuss the risks to your privacy in-depth below.

Content Ownership Issues

Although most social media users expect that they own the content they share on social media, that’s not always the case. Some platforms operate within a grey area of ownership consent and may bury clauses in their terms of service that, in essence, allow the platform to use user generated content for their marketing and promotional purposes. Many platforms have started addressing this issue in recent years amongst public outcry, but not all platforms are adapting quickly enough. The more you post, the more the platform may be able to use. How much of your life is it acceptable for social media platforms to take advantage of?

Mental Health Problems

Although it sounds counterintuitive, the more time some people spend on social media, the more likely they are to feel lonely. This is because social media is increasingly taking the place of face-to-face interactions because of its ubiquity and ease of use. In addition, social media can also cause or worsen symptoms of depression and anxiety, impact self-esteem, and more.

Distraction

When you’re bored at work or school, avoiding doing those chores, or simply procrastinating on getting out of bed, social media often provides the perfect remedy. You can simply open up your favourite app and tune out your responsibilities for a while. Unfortunately, people have become so adept at this, that they’re struggling to actually accomplish the necessary tasks needed to function at work and in daily life.

Fake News and Trolls 

Because of how easy it is to share content generated by other users, real purveyors of fake news (those aiming to disrupt social norms with false claims) are easily able to take advantage of the sharing environment online. They can spread false, misleading, and damaging information around the globe in a matter of hours, which can cause great amounts of damage. In addition, trolls -users who want to stir up trouble and hurt others- feel they have free reign on social platforms because they can hide behind a computer screen, without facing any real-world repercussions for their actions.

The Privacy and Security Risks of Social Media

Privacy on social media is hard to come by. Not only can your connections see everything you share, but so can the companies behind each platform and, in some cases, so can cybercriminals. By being on social media you open yourself up to:

Data Mining

Social platforms use every crumb of information you leave behind when using your profile. This includes the information you add to personalize your account, like your name, date of birth, contact information, address, and interests, as well as every interaction you make on the platform, such as your likes, comments, and shares. Even things like the device you use and the times you are most active can be mined. All of this information helps the platform build a detailed profile about you, which they can use to serve you personalized ads or sell to third-parties.

Malware Spread

Malware is a type of software that, when installed on your device, can steal your information, lock your files and demand a fee to unlock them, plague you with ad pop-ups, or simply slow down or ruin your device. Unfortunately, it’s easy to spread malware on social media. It typically comes disguised as a link to a video, a website, or some other harmless location online and, once one unsuspecting user clicks that link, their account may send it to every one of their account contacts. As more people click the link, the further it spreads and the more devices it infects.

Phishing

Phishing is a type of online attack in which a cybercriminal fools a user into surrendering personal information like account passwords, banking details, or credit card information. In these attacks, the criminal builds a realistic looking web page that mimics another website and can be hard to distinguish from the real thing. Many phishing attempts mimic social media platforms. For example, if a friend sent you a Facebook message with a link to a YouTube video, but that link asked you to sign into your YouTube account to watch the video, would you be able to tell if the login page was real or fake?

How to Stay Private Online

Social media connects the world. It’s how we keep in touch, meet new people, apply for jobs, promote our businesses, and more. While you may not expect privacy surrounding your public posts -they are public, after all- you should be allowed to limit who sees what, especially when it comes to the organizations behind each platform and the bad actors (cybercriminals) lurking in wait. Thankfully, there are a few ways to stay private on social media.

  • Check your privacy settings
  • Treat “About Me” forms as optional
  • Don’t friend strangers
  • Learn to recognize phishing
  • Set hard limits
  • Use a strong password
  • Log out

Check Your Privacy Settings

The first step to safeguarding your privacy on social media is to check your accounts’ privacy settings. Facebook alone has more than half a dozen different settings you can adjust, including who can see your posts, send you friend requests, look you up using your email address, and more. Twitter, Instagram and other platforms also have different settings that you can control to protect your privacy. More than this, some platforms are beginning to offer the ability to customize what types of data you allow them to collect about you and then use. This can help you stay private on all fronts.

Treat “About Me” Forms as Optional

Some platforms, especially Facebook and LinkedIn, ask you to fill out detailed “About Me” pages. These pages ask for things like your birthday, where you work and went to school, where you live, and more. Rather than give up these details, treat those pages as optional to stay private on social media. 

Don’t Friend Strangers

If you wouldn’t tell a stranger details about your life in person, don’t give them access to that information online. If you don’t know the person, you don’t know what they might do with your personal information. The best way to maintain privacy on social media is to avoid connecting with strangers whenever possible.

Learn to Recognize Phishing Attempts

Phishing is an incredibly efficient tactic that cybercriminals use to cheat you out of your information. Because the websites they create to steal your data look just like real ones, it’s easy to fall into this trap. Fortunately, there are a few ways to recognize and avoid phishing. The most effective method is to avoid clicking all links sent to you unless you can verify that it’s real. If this isn’t an option, next take a look at the URL. If it is unfamiliar or is a misspelling of a common website (for example, something like youtub.com), it could be a phishing attempt. You can also ask yourself why a website is asking for your information. Why would YouTube need your credit card number, for example? Finally, install antivirus software on your devices; it can help detect malicious websites.

Set Hard Limits

When using social media, there are certain things you should never post or share online. These things include your social insurance or security number, driver’s license, credit card information, and more. Create a list of all the information you should never share online and stick firm to it. Another worthy inclusion is location tagging. While it might seem like a fun way to share adventures with friends, it also tells people you’re far from home, which they can take advantage of.

Use a Strong Password

Your password is the gatekeeper to your privacy. If it isn’t strong enough, you run the risk of your private information being stolen in a data breach. Check out our other article about how to create a strong and memorable password for all of your online accounts.

Log Out

Finally, one of the best ways to protect your privacy on social media is to log out of your accounts when you’re done using them. By logging out, you can prevent your information from falling into the wrong hands in the event that you lose a device or someone else uses a device after you.


Social media is a great tool, but also comes with certain risks, especially to your privacy. Fortunately, by taking the right steps, you can reduce how invasive the social media experience becomes. If you’re ready to take more drastic measures, you can also disconnect from social media with our quick guide.

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