By Marie Flanagan June 2, 2021
Summary: Sharing too much on your social media profiles can increase the risk of someone breaching your security (full date of birth on your profile and your mom’s maiden name on hers, anyone?). But it is possible to stay safer while staying connected. From remembering to adjust your privacy settings to omitting personal information to using two-factor authentication, we have the top tips to make your high-speed internet connection work for you and help keep your personal information safer.
The security risks of social media are well-documented, but very few people actually want to cut social media out of their lives completely. After all, it can be a valuable tool for connecting with friends and family who live far away as well as finding out what’s going on in your community. So how can you stay secure while using social media?
First things first. Any security effort should include creating a strong password. Strong passwords include a combination of upper- and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. They’re also not used for any other accounts you have. (In other words, if you tend to reuse the same handful of passwords across all your accounts, you’re doing yourself a disservice.) If you have difficulty remembering all of your passwords, we recommend opting for a password manager instead of your browser’s keychain. Curious about more password security? We’ve got answers.
Once you’ve ensured your password is secure and unique, you can refine your profile settings.
Most social networking sites have default privacy settings. These might be sufficient for your personal preferences, or you might decide they’re too lax. Be sure to check your privacy settings on a semi-regular basis as they — and your own preferences! — can change.
While you’re checking the default privacy settings, be sure to review if your profile is public or private — meaning it’s visible only to followers and friends. Some information, like your name and username, are always public. Making your profile private will also make it more difficult for followers to share your posts. For example, if your Twitter account is private, your followers can’t retweet you. This is one of the easiest ways to limit the number of people who can see your information.
You’ve planned a big trip for the first time in years and you’re excited — we get it! But think twice before sharing details of your upcoming trip. Posts detailing where you’re going and how long you’re staying can easily tip off criminals that no one is home, making your house an easy target. This is also true for geotagging your location. While sharing your location (like in your Instagram story) can seem like a great way to let followers know about your new favorite coffee shop, it’s clear that you’re gone. Wait until you’re back home to post pictures, and just enjoy soaking up the scenery.
The same thing goes for any big purchases you’ve made, like a new car, new 4K TV, or other valuable object. If you’re sharing the latest and greatest tech at your house, it’s a clue to criminals that you have that valuable item — and probably others, too. Share your plans privately (such as via text) with just a few friends. That way, you can still get the thrill of sharing without opening yourself up to potential break-ins.
While it used to be common to connect with and follow everyone you could, that’s not the most secure practice. Make it a habit to cull through your friends and followers list and remove anyone who you don’t know or don’t want seeing your personal information.
The more connections you have, the harder it is to control what happens to your data.
As an added bonus, a smaller friends list increases the likelihood that you’ll see content you care about in your feeds.
If you’re experiencing repeated messaging, attempts to connect, or harassment, you can block users. Instagram has a feature that allows you to block a single account or any subsequent accounts created by the same user. This is particularly helpful when dealing with individuals who create spam accounts.
This one might sound a little shady, but hear us out. Social media, and Facebook specifically, offer a lot of options to share where you lived and went to school, when you graduated, who your family members are, your birthdate, and more. One way to make sure this information isn’t on the generally-accessible web is to remove it from your profile — or make sure it was never there in the first place.
However, if you want to represent your alma mater or enjoy birthday posts every year, consider being vague about some information.
For example, you could include your birthday but exclude the year — or shave off a trip around the sun or two. While most people think nothing of having their full birthday on their profiles, that date is used for identity verification in a number of places, particularly medical offices. You could also include where you went to school but not what year you graduated.
A good rule of thumb is to omit or, at a minimum, be vague about any information that is used in security questions or as part of your password.
Have you ever replied to a post about making a performer name? The prompt is often something like, “The street you grew up on + your first pet’s name.” Unfortunately, those are often security questions, too. When you comment back on the original post, viewers now have your full name (from your profile), the street you previously lived on, your pet’s name, and any other information that is publicly available from your profile.
That could add up to a massive amount of data from a seemingly innocent post. Have really funny results? Go ahead and text them to a friend or share with your family’s group chat.
Also be careful with any lists of questions that ask you to take a walk down memory lane. These often ask about where you grew up, what schools you attended, when you graduated, favorite movies or bands, if you have kids, and more. A lot of that information can be used to either satisfy security measures or to breach your password. Anniversary and birth dates, favorite media, and hometowns are common password components. The more personal information you have as publicly available, the easier it is for criminals to take advantage of your accounts.
Many third-party websites allow you to register for their site through Facebook, Google, or Twitter credentials rather than creating new login information. This can seem like a convenient shortcut, and in many ways it is — but that also means it’s an easy shortcut for hackers.
Not only does this option make it easier for the new site to have more information than it actually needs, but it also means that anyone who breaches your social login information can access these other accounts, too. If you’re worried about remembering more login credentials, we suggest a password vault. Our favorite is EarthLink Protect+ powered by NortonLifeLock thanks to its comprehensive approach to identity protection, security management, and seamless integration with high-speed internet.
Two-factor authentication requires you to enter your username and password plus another piece of information. Most often, it’s a code that is sent to the phone number or email address associated with the account. While this does require a few extra seconds of effort before logging in, it also makes accounts harder to hack — and can alert you to anyone trying to log in to your profile.
Staying safer on social media doesn’t have to mean deleting all of your accounts. Instead, taking the time to regularly clean up your friends and followers list (as well as accounts you follow), ensuring private information stays off of the web, and practicing strong password maintenance will allow you to enjoy the benefits of social media without having to constantly worry about the dangers of it. Good advice for adults and kids alike.
If you’re looking for more information about the dark web, how to create a secure password, or why email privacy matters, we have answers. And if you’re looking to get connected to high-speed internet without data caps, EarthLink can help you find the right connection.
Marie Flanagan is a contributing writer for EarthLink. She’s a life-long Atlantan with a passion for SaaS, IoT, AI, fintech, and everything technology. Her ideal offline situation is volunteering in STEM education for girls or on her front porch with a book.
See all posts from Marie Flanagan.