As social media pushes the boundaries of what is appropriate to share online, and apps, programs and websites demand more personal information — from our current location to online shopping history — the American Library Association reminds us this week that it’s okay to keep some things to yourself.
Denise Agosto, PhD, a professor in the College of Computing and Informatics, studies online behavior on social media and, in honor of ALA’s annual observance of Choose Privacy Week, she’s offered up 10 tips for safer social media use.
“While social media use is safe for the most part, sharing personal information online does come with an element of risk. The following tips can help you to become a safer, smarter social media user,” she advises.
- Limit information sharing via privacy settings
Most social media sites offer a range of privacy and safety settings. Careful reading and selection of stricter privacy and safety options are the easiest ways to limit your personal information sharing. In addition to careful initial selection, periodic review of settings is important, as available options change frequently. But remember, even the strictest privacy settings can’t provide complete protection, and responsible use is still necessary.
- Withhold personal information
Many social media sites ask for your name, phone number, physical address and other personal information, but they do not require it in order to use their services. When possible, refrain from providing optional personal or other identifying information to protect your privacy online and to limit the amount of personal information service providers can collect about you.
- Use pseudonyms or alternate information
In addition to withholding information, using pseudonyms or alternate information is an option. Many users choose pseudonyms such as nicknames, middle names, or made up names to keep their identities semi-private online. This way, only known friends can find them online and access their personal content. Also limit your use of apps and games within these sites; typically they are designed to collect personal information for marketing and other commercial purposes.
- Limit online friends/fans
Although it can be tempting to gather hundreds or evens thousands of followers, the risk of someone capturing and misusing your personal information increases as the size of your audience increases. Policies such as limiting your friends to people you know in the offline world can help to keep the size of your social media account audiences reasonable.
- Think of the general public as your audience
Social media environments might feel intimate, but sharing in social media is never truly private, even if you limit the audiences that can see what you post. A good way to avoid over-sharing is to think of the general public – not just the person or people you are aiming your messages at – as your actual audience. If you wouldn’t feel comfortable saying something to a group of strangers or sharing a photo or video in public, then you shouldn’t do it on social media.
- Consider the possible consequences before posting information online
Before posting personal information online, ask yourself, “Is this something I want everyone in my social network to see? Is it something I would object to their sharing with others without my knowledge?” As a rule, if you hesitate or feel unsure about posting something, don’t do it.
- Remember that anything you post will stay online indefinitely
Even if you delete that embarrassing picture, post, or video, chances are it will stay online somewhere. This means that before posting anything online, it’s important to consider: “Do I want this to be available on the Internet for the rest of my life?”
- Monitor your online content
It’s a good idea to periodically google yourself and also to view your account profiles from the audience view to see what personal information others can access. You might find information you had thought you had limited is easily available, prompting you to rethink your sharing practices.
- Change passwords frequently
You should change your passwords for your social media, online shopping, phone and other accounts every few months. It’s also important to use different passwords for each account. That way if someone does obtain one of your passwords, they will only be able access the one account…not your entire online life.
- Use common sense online
Above all, use common sense. If posting something seems like it might be a bad idea, it probably is. If you feel uncomfortable in an online environment, then leave. Simple common sense can be your best defense against possible negative consequences of social media use.