Computers / Tips and Solutions

Stop Oversharing: A Guide to Social Media Privacy

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If Facebook's scandals and congressional hearings have got you questioning whether you should post that meme, maybe it’s time to update some of your privacy settings. We’ll show you how to control who can see your profile and what you post, as well as go over how you can improve your privacy on three of the most popular social media platforms.

Facebook

Facebook's privacy settings have always been confusing. Usually buried in multiple menus, it was difficult to make sure your personal data was safe and secure. Now, in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which involved a British political consulting firm improperly acquiring data on 50 million Facebook users, Facebook has accelerated the rolling out of a central page for privacy, known as Access Your Information.

The page does what we all wanted from Facebook in the first place: consolidates all the privacy settings into one page so you don't have to go to 20 different tabs. Outdated and confusing settings have been removed so it's much more clear what information can and can't be shared, especially with third-party apps.

There will also be a new Privacy Shortcuts menu, which makes it easier for you to access settings for privacy, settings, and ads. Make your account more secure by activating two-factor authentication, review what you've shared and delete it, control ads that you see, and manage who sees your posts and profile information from the Privacy Shortcuts menu.

You'll also be able to download all your data securely from Facebook and even move it to another service. The downloadable data includes photos you've uploaded, contacts you've added to your account, posts on your timeline, and more.

Another word of advice is to be careful about which third-party apps you sign into with your Facebook account. Most of the time, these apps require access to your personal information, usually shown as a little notification box that pops up, and we all usually just press "OK." We should all be a little more careful and read what those apps want access to. If it seems like it's too much, resist the urge to press OK.

You can also access your privacy settings for more options:

  1. Click the account menu at the top right of any Facebook page
  2. Click Account Settings
  3. Click Privacy

If you want to take a temporary break from maintaining a Facebook account, take the following steps:

  1. Click the account menu at the top right of any Facebook page
  2. Click Settings
  3. Click General
  4. Click Manage Account
  5. Click Deactivate next to Account

Deactivating your Facebook account means that your profile won't be visible to other people and people won't be able to search for you. Some information, such as messages you sent to your friends, may still be visible to others. Once you're done with your Facebook sabbatical, you can reactivate your account simply by logging in with your username and password. Your Facebook profile will be completely restored.

If you're certain that Facebook is not right for you, you will have to contact Facebook directly to delete your account permanently.

Twitter

Twitter is all about keeping things short and concise. How much damage can you do in 140 characters? Apparently, a lot. That can be a problem, especially since your Twitter account is set to public by default. Also, most of the profile information you provide Twitter will always be visible to the public, like your bio, location, website, and picture. You can't choose to make those private, even in the settings. A workaround to this is to just leave those fields blank so nothing shows up in your profile. Twitter does allow you to choose who can see your birthday, though.

If you want more privacy, you can protect your Tweets so only approved followers can view them.

From the Web:

  1. Go to your Privacy and safety settings
  2. In the Tweet privacy section, check the box next to Protect my Tweets
  3. Click the Save button at the bottom of the page
  4. You will be prompted to enter your password to confirm the change

From an iOS device:

  1. In the top menu, tap your profile icon, then tap Settings and privacy
  2. Tap Settings and privacy
  3. Under Tweets, and next to Protect your Tweets, drag the slider to turn on

From an Android device:

  1. In the top menu, you will either see a navigation menu icon or your profile icon. Tap whichever icon you have and select Settings and privacy
  2. Tap Privacy and safety
  3. Under Tweets, and next to Protect your Tweets, check the box

If you protect your Tweets, you'll have to approve people who want to follow you.

From the Web:

  1. Go to your profile
  2. Click on Followers
  3. Then click Pending follower requests to view the people who have requested to follow you
  4. Click Accept or Decline

From an iOS device:

  1. In the top menu, tap your profile icon
  2. Tap Follower requests
  3. You'll see a list of all follower requests
  4. Tap the checkmark to approve the request, or tap the X to deny it

From an Android device:

  1. In the top menu, you will either see a navigation menu icon or your profile icon. Tap whichever icon you have
  2. Tap Follower requests
  3. You'll see a list of all follower requests
  4. Tap the checkmark to approve the request, or tap the X to deny it

Instagram

Be default, your profile and posts are visible to the public. That means as soon as you create your account, you should set it to private. Setting your account to private means that followers will need your approval before they can view your posts, your followers, and the people you follow.

There are several caveats, though. While your posts are private on Instagram, if you share them on other social networks, they may be visible to the public depending on your privacy settings on those networks. For example, a private Instagram post you share on Twitter may be visible to the people who can see your Twitter posts. Also, if you decided to turn your account to private after being public for a while, any followers that followed you before you went private can still see your posts. You'll have to manually block them. People can still send a photo or video directly to you even if they're not following you.

To set your account to private:

  1. Go to the Instagram app on your mobile device
    1. Please note that you cannot set your account to private on the computer
  2. Tap the person icon located at the bottom right
  3. Tap either the gear (iOS) or the three-dot (Android) icon located at the top right
  4. Scroll down to the Private Account setting and move the slider to on

If you're looking to take a break, Instagram allows you to temporarily disable your account, which hides your account, profile, photos, comments, and likes until you reactivate it by logging back in. To do this:

  1. Go to instagram.com on a computer, since the mobile app doesn't give you the option
  2. Tap or click on the person icon in the top right and then select Edit Profile
  3. Scroll down, then tap or click Temporarily disable my account in the bottom right
  4. Select an option from the drop-down menu next to Why are you disabling your account? and reenter your password
    1. The option to disable your account will only appear after you've selected a reason from the menu
  5. Click Temporarily Disable Account

If you're sure that you no longer want to keep your Instagram account, follow these simple steps:

  1. Go to https://instagram.com/accounts/remove/request/permanent/ on a computer, since the mobile app doesn't give you the option (Instagram may ask you to log in first if you haven't done so already)
  2. Select an option from the drop-down menu next to Why are you disabling your account? and reenter your password
    1. The option to delete your account will only appear after you've selected a reason from the menu
  3. Click Permanently delete my account

Please note that deleting your account means your profile, photos, videos, comments, likes, and followers will be permanently removed. It also means you can't sign up again with the same username or add that username to another account. Instagram has stated that they can't reactivate deleted accounts, so make sure you truly want to get rid of your account before you permanently delete it.

Have you made other privacy and security changes to your social media accounts? Let us know in the Comments section, below.

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