Ah Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Foursquare…social media makes it so easy for us to stay connected to our friends and family, to share our joys and seek solace in our sorrows, to watch the grandkids grow from afar and celebrate life’s milestones with lifelong friends.
It also makes it really easy to get burned.
To help you enjoy the social aspects of social media without suffering any unintended consequences when doing so, below we offer some common-sense security tips for protecting your property, identity, reputation, computer and self while online.
Protect your property
Social media makes it easy for your friends to know what you’re up to. But it also makes it easy for others to know what’s going on in your life too, including those times when you’re not home. Even if you’ve installed a home security system, you don’t need to hang a welcome sign for would-be robbers, so be wary of how much information you make public about your whereabouts. Too many people throw caution to the wind in this regard: 4 in 10 homeowners aged 18 to 34 years old post updates and photos while on vacation. That makes it really easy for a potential burglar to know a house is sitting empty!
When we’re in the throes of a tropical vacation or having quality family time at a reunion, of course we want to share those moments with our friends. But your photos and comments on your trip can wait until you’re back home, and you can give a recap of your trip instead of a play-by-play while you’re gone.
Protect your identity
When I first joined Facebook way back when, I answered all of the profile questions without thinking, including giving my full birth date, with year. Soon after, someone pointed out the danger in that, suggesting I publish only the month and day in order to protect myself from identity theft. It was an easy change to make and a smart one, yet I still see plenty of people who publish their full birth dates as part of their profiles. That’s risky and unnecessary. Our advice? Don’t. You probably should keep your home address to yourself too, and even be careful talking about kids’ birthdays. It’s sad to think you have to be so careful, but it’s more sad to think about someone stealing your identity and running up a huge credit card bill in your name!
Protect your reputation
Some days I think we should call it anti-social media, when I see how people let their guard down and say things publicly they really shouldn’t. Remember: If you type it, you should consider it part of the permanent record, whether you’re typing a text or a Facebook update or a tweet. Sure, it’s only in digital form and social media is fleeting, with status updates and tweets quickly replaced by other status updates and tweets. But say something unkind about your employer or your sister-in-law in the heat of the moment, and that moment could come back to haunt you later.
Protecting your reputation means being careful in the photos you post as well. We’ve all heard stories of teachers being fired because of compromising photos, and as wrong as that is to fire someone for what they do outside of work, the message is clear: People will form opinions about you based on the photos you post. This is a message we simply have to drive home with teenage girls and young women in particular, who are often posting photos that call their reputations (and modesty) into question. Here’s a good rule of thumb if you’re in doubt: If your grandmother would flinch at the photo, don’t post it.
Protect your computer
Click with care! Not every link that shows up in your newsfeed is a valid one, nor is every message you receive a safe one. Be wary of messages from people you don’t know or see any connection to. Also, know that accepting friend requests willy nilly can put you on the receiving end of unwanted messages. And suspicious links in messages or other people’s status updates might lead to malicious websites that can mess up your computer.
To protect yourself, keep things to yourself. When my husband was deployed last year, we were reminded again and again to be vague about where he was and when he would be back, both to keep those of us at home safe, and to keep troops safe. (When troop movement becomes public knowledge, troops become vulnerable.) Now, that’s an extreme example, but it’s a good reminder that not everything needs to be broadcast via social media.
When my husband came home from the deployment and went back to his civilian job working graveyard shift, he reiterated to me that no one needed to know when he was gone all night. It was easy for me to remember to keep that to myself when talking to say a plumber, but harder when online talking to “friends,” but how stupid to tell the world we were home alone all night, right?
That said, think about who your “friends” are. Be choosy about your friends and followers, and be willing to block people. I know of a couple of young women with thousands of friends on Facebook, and they aren’t even old enough to have met that many people in their short lives, let alone befriend that many! There isn’t any reason to expose your personal life to hundreds or even thousands of people you don’t actually know, so be careful about your friends. And not everyone is willing to abide by the rules of etiquette online, so be willing to block those that aren’t.
The best home security system in the world will do you little good if you’re aren’t practicing personal security online. Use some common sense, follow these social media safety tips, and know you’re protecting more than your property when you do so.