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It doesn't matter if you're worried about the prying eyes of strangers, nosy relatives or your employer—it's important to protect your privacy on social media.
But as much as you try to shore up your privacy on sites like Facebook and Instagram, short of having an alias, it can be tough to keep your presence 100% under the radar. Here's what you can do to help make sure what you post online is seen only by those you wish to see it.
5 Ways to Protect Yourself Online
Social media has become an almost unavoidable presence in the lives of many, but there are five simple steps you can take to protect yourself, and your personal information.
1. Take inventory of your social media accounts.
The first step to protecting your social media presence is to know how your information is shared and displayed. Start by taking stock of your existing social media profiles, what's on them and who can see it.
Also be sure to track down and assess old accounts you haven't touched in years. You may, for example, have an account you made in high school that's rife with posts that you'd rather not be associated with as an adult. If you're worried about these old profiles, try to log in and remove the posts or delete the account. Most websites have account recovery options available if you can't remember your account information.
2. Understand your privacy settings and keep them up to date.
Each platform has its own privacy settings, and you should know the ins-and-outs of how each works. If you are on Facebook, for example, you have the ability to restrict who sees your profile, as well as individual photos and posts. This isn't necessarily as easy on Instagram.
Like anything else, you'll always want to keep your privacy settings up to date as policies can change from time to time, which could potentially expose your profile.
In addition, you should always be aware of what public information you have in your profile. Even if they are private, social media profiles can still publicly show things like your hometown, your bio, employer or education. Look yourself up from time to time while logged out, just to see what others can see about you without being your friend or follower.
3. Always use two-factor authentication.
Even if all your privacy settings are exactly the way you want them, a hacker gaining access to your account can wreak havoc. Two-factor authentication makes it so you'll need to confirm your identity twice—once with a password, then again with a code or link sent to you via text, email or some other method. This security measure makes it harder for hackers to access your account even if they have your password.
Beefing up your security with two-factor authentication makes it twice as hard for a hacker to access your account. That doesn't mean you're hack proof, however, as hackers may still be able to gain access to the accounts you use to verify your login. Always be vigilant of emails asking you to verify activity, as this could be a sign a hacker is trying to access your accounts. Immediately change your password if you're worried it's been compromised.
4. Beware of fake accounts.
Another potentially dangerous thing to look out for is fake accounts, which are profiles set up by bots or fraudsters. These accounts are made for many reasons, including to run scams, sway people politically or to collect your personal information available on your profile. These accounts may appear innocuous, but in reality they could be extremely harmful. Fake accounts exist across nearly all platforms; Facebook alone says it disables billions of these accounts each year.
If you get a friend or follower request from someone you don't know, you probably shouldn't accept it. If you fear you are already interacting with someone that may be fake, block it and report the account. Never give out personal information to anyone through social media unless you know that person well enough to trust them.
5. Watch out for social media scams and fraud.
Social media fraud and scams are becoming more prevalent and harder to detect. In the case of "romance scams," people have been tricked into handing over money and personal information to impostor accounts they developed relationships with. Beyond romance tricks, fraudsters are using social media to run phishing scams, scams that target children and more.
You may think that you'll never be fooled by someone on social media, but it can happen to the most vigilant people. Monitor your friend requests and new followers closely, and always think twice before engaging with strangers on social media.
Limit Social Media Exposure by Posting Thoughtfully
At the end of the day, being vigilant about your social media privacy will only get you so far. You should also consider being thoughtful when it comes to what you post and share. Photos, posts and videos can easily be downloaded or otherwise captured, which means they can live on even after they are deleted. Due to the potential permanence of online content, you should be hyper-vigilant of what you post in the first place.
This awareness is also important because social media has blurred the separation of personal and professional life. Your social media profiles may be viewable by your coworkers and supervisors, and what you post there may create problems in the workplace. Your employer might even have a social media policy dictating how employees can use their personal pages. If you're worried about your career clashing with what you post on social media, it may be best to severely lock down your account or avoid having one altogether.
Consider Identity Theft Monitoring
Being extra cautious online is your first line of defense when trying to protect your personal information online. Past that, you might consider enrolling in some sort of identity theft monitoring so you can be alerted if any of your personal data is compromised.
Experian's identity theft monitoring will alert you when pieces of your private information are found to be exposed, and you'll also be notified if any new accounts are opened in your name. Fraudsters often traffic people's information on the dark web, and with Experian credit monitoring, you can run a free dark web scan to see if any of your information can be found.