How to Protect Your Identity on Social Media

For most of us, not a day goes by where we don’t use our favourite social media platforms, connecting with friends, family, groups and work colleagues. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn users collectively create a gargantuan worldwide online social scene. And every user has one major thing in common: They, like you, share tons of information.

When social media first hit the internet, the types of information we could share was fairly limited, comprising mainly of status updates, pictures and videos. Social media technology quickly advanced in the years that followed, however, and new features began popping up, with slick, responsive smartphone integration being the game-changer.

Today, we put it all out there on social media, tagging friends, our locations, posting live videos, and listing our education and work histories, interests and hobbies, with businesses/organisations creating pages and adverts to recruit staff and appeal to students. But, with identity theft often making the headlines, is it really a good thing to share so much of ourselves on social media?

Well, sharing isn’t the chief problem here. In fact, sharing is a good, positive aspect of online living, allowing us to connect and communicate ideas fast and conveniently. What can be a major security issue on social media, however, is over-sharing, whether due to ignorance (about who might be snooping on us) or simply being out of touch with online safety.

So if it’s more specifically WHAT you share that could wind up hurting you, what are the best practices for ensuring your identity stays as safe as possible while using social media? First of all, try to think of all the most personal, sensitive information about you – including your family and business – that you’d never want a stranger to know about. Now ask yourself why there would ever be a need to share it publicly via social media?

For instance, while it’s perfectly fine to tell a friend details about yourself – like your birthday, phone number, address and place of work/study – sharing that kind of personal information in your online profile is much riskier. Chances are, people closest to you in life already know enough, so try to keep personally identifying information offline. For example, you could generalize your geographical location by listing just your state.

Furthermore, while telling a friend that you’re going on vacation is perfectly fine, posting this information online isn’t a smart idea. If you send a post on your departure date, you’re telling your friends that your house is now vacant. Even if you implicitly trust everyone in your ‘accepted’ social media circle, consider the networking, sharing nature of social media and how easy it is to lose control of what we put out there.

So naturally the same goes for posting holiday snaps and location tags. There’s no law against it, and hey, it feels great to tell the world you’re on a sun-kissed beach, but here’s your post’s unintended subtext: “Hey guys, I’m still out the country and nobody’s home.” On the topic of photo uploads in general, be aware of the ‘other stuff’, like background items such as bank statements or confidential work documents.

If you value your privacy on Facebook and Twitter, it’s definitely worth customizing your social media Privacy Settings. Toggling specific options can really help tighten down on security, like limiting what kind of audience can view your posts and how much strangers/yet-to-be-accepted friends can see on your profile/posts.

It may have once been cool to brag about your Facebook friend count, but now it’s much wiser to forget the number and instead focus on building a list consisting of only those you trust and or have (preferably) met. Keep an eye on your accepted friends list and steer clear of random ‘who-the-heck-are-you?’ requests.

Pick usernames that don’t reveal sensitive information (such as your birthday and location), strong passwords to protect your accounts, and be vigilant when it comes to spotting bogus advertisements and posts built by cyber ‘phishing’ scammers. Finally, ensure you computer has up-to-date antivirus and anti-malware suites for fundamental protection, and always remember to logout from social media accounts.