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How Can We Protect Our Privacy on Social Media?

In the age of misinformation and data leaks, we offer 5 tips to protect your privacy online

Liza Monroy

“Our privacy is receding and we are being exposed.” 

That’s what researchers who study the future of technology, social media and AI believe. 

It’s not just another episode of “Black Mirror.” It's a reality we must all be prepared to live in now. With increased visibility online comes greater potential of your personal privacy being violated. Whether you want to avoid identity theft, being turned into a posthumous chatbot, or simply steer clear of your personal data being harvested by corporations looking to profit off of it, the question of who has access to our personal data and what it’s being used for is now harder to answer more than ever. As the Cambridge Analytica scandal brought to light, what would in previous ages have felt like a dystopian sci-fi movie premise is, in our times, prime documentary fodder. Which feels pretty dystopian in itself.

With our personal information being hacked and compromised, the question begs to be asked: Who is keeping tabs on our information and why? You’re checking out your friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and celebrities on social media, but who is watching you? And what are they doing with all that data? 

We don't have an answer to that. But we do have some advice for engaging with your social media without compromising your privacy. Here are five tips for protecting your personal information on social media. 

Use a VPN

If you think VPNs are only for accessing the dark web or getting a Facebook account in China, think again. A VPN can hide your online social activity from anyone looking to steal or pry. It won’t hide your identity from the site you’re using itself, but it gives you a secure tunnel through which your connection is routed. Here’s how to get one.

Level-Up Your Privacy Settings

Of course, the best way to protect your privacy is to not share at all. Easier said than done, sure, but a good compromise is to make everything as private as possible. On Facebook, you can tweak your privacy settings until you're blue in the face. On Instagram and Twitter, you can set your accounts to private. Need a public account for work or something else? Create a separate one and keep your private life private.

Only Connect with People You Know IRL

Online stranger danger is mostly talked about in terms of teens and potential predators lurking on social media platforms, but bots, catfishers, and trolls lurk rampantly. Social media researchers have noted thousands of accounts with the same profile picture liking posts in unison. The bottom line: If you don’t know someone, how can you know their motives and reasons for connecting—or even if they’re real? Be discerning about which friends and follow requests you accept. 

Skip the Quiz

Social media quizzes often pose the same kinds of questions that might be asked to retrieve passwords or access bank accounts. That may not seem obvious when you’re answering a bunch of fun questions at once. “Multiple quizzes can elicit enough information that a cybercriminal might be able to access a bank or credit card account,” one Canadian cybersecurity expert points out.

Log Out When You’re Done

Sure, it’s more convenient to stay logged in so you can get your Twitter, Facebook or Instagram fix as soon as you open the tab, but the price to pay for that convenience can be your privacy.

Liza Monroy is a writer based in Santa Cruz, CA. You can find her collected books, articles, and essays on lizamonroy.com and follow her on Instagram.

Header image by Lianhao Qu via Unsplash.

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