Of course, the easiest way to stay private on social media is to not post anything. Or maybe you’re the kind of person that enjoys posting artistic photos of keyholes and blades of grass that could never give away your location? That’s cool, too. Post away. But for the rest of us that want to share a bit of our lives on social media, and those of us that need to post things for our job or business… this article is for you.
Let’s start with you and your name. If you know a person’s full name, it is way too easy to find their home address on the Internet.
- Google yourself. Open a new tab, right now. You’ll probably come up with a bunch of links to your LinkedIn account, personal website, Twitter, and maybe some news articles about you.
- Also search for yourself on Pipl, PeopleFinders, BeenVerified, and other sites. Do you see how easy it is to obtain your current and previous addresses? When I searched myself, I also found an old Amazon wishlist that’s not even associated with my account and a Flickr account that I created 10 years ago. You can (and should) request to get your listing removed, but it’s a tedious process because you have to do it on several websites. The moral of the story is: your personal information is out there, and even after attempting to remove it, it probably will still be out there for people to find if they look hard enough.
- Now, look at your personal Facebook and business profile from the “Public” viewer. Do the same with Instagram, Google+, Twitter, your website/blog… all of your social media profiles.
We’ll go through the main ones: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, & Snapchat and ask some questions.
Check out your profile, posts, and stories, assuming the perspective of a stranger.
Do they know where your favorite café is? Do they know what gym you go to? Do they know your home address? Let’s walk through each part of your social media profiles.
Is your profile private or public, and how does that make you feel?
If we’re talking Facebook… which posts are public and which are only for friends to view? Recognize that posts you think are shared only with friends are just a screenshot away from being shared to the entire world. Please, don’t make social media your personal diary.
Is your full name in your profile? Ask yourself if you really want/need to share that information with everyone. If not, change it.
Do you post your location in your profile? Why? Is that necessary?
If you have a business profile (Instagram/Facebook)…
- Consider the contact phone number you have listed. Is that your own private cell phone number? There are burner phone services available, so you don’t have to give out your cell number! These phone apps allow you to get a new line for your business (or for giving out to dates) without having to get an entirely new phone. Tip for personal trainers who work at a gym or independently: Never give out your cell number to clients! Get a burner number to give out and to list on your business cards. I learned that lesson the hard way…
- The address for your business… is that your home address? If so, I urge you to reconsider putting this information on social media. There is really no reason to ever ever ever tag your location at your home address. I don’t care if you live in a high rise apartment with 1,000 units. There’s only a couple entrances to the building, right? Anyone could intercept you there.
Friends & Followers
On Facebook, don’t accept friend requests from people you don’t know. Don’t accept duplicate friend requests from someone you thought you had already friended. Those are likely spam. How can people find you? There are privacy settings on Facebook that control who can find you and friend you from searches. On Snapchat, you can turn off the “Let others find me using my mobile number.”
On Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, be aware of your followers and note any suspicious activity. If your account is public, there’s not much you can do about these followers… but I always like to block and report spammy accounts like @InCreaSe_y0ur_foll0werz1234 that follow me on Instagram. For a public account, the most important thing you can do is be aware of what you post and how it can be used against you.
Who can see your story on Instagram? Is it being shared anywhere else (like Facebook)? What about Snapchat?
Think about the stories you post:
- What locations are you tagging… Your favorite smoothie bar? Your gym? People love to tag locations to recommend trendy spots, good services, and delicious food. But you’re also alerting strangers to the fact that you go to these places all the time. If you teach a class or own a brick & mortar business, there’s no hiding your location when you’re trying to promote your business. But stop and think before you post. Do you really have to share everything?
- Live Stories… Check out the background… is it clear what location you’re at? Is that necessary?
- What other information can be gleaned? The fact that you go to SoulCycle on Brown Street every Wednesday at 6am? The fact that it’s 12am… and you’re partying it up with friends at The Standard Hotel? Gee, maybe the stranger viewing your story is thinking about stopping by The Standard to see how forcibly persuasive he can be when you’re wasted…
Chilling. Yeah, that sends shivers up my arms. But maybe you’re not a woman and/or that image of a stalker using your Instagram Story to find and take advantage of you doesn’t bother you?
Things to be careful about posting:
- Vacation pics. Let’s revisit the location tagging. According to your posts, could a stranger discern that you’re on vacation? Maybe they know for a fact that you’re on vacation, and they know your home address. Cool, no one’s home! Free stuff!
- It is good practice to wait to post about your vacation until you’re back home. I know, that’s hard not to post your stunning beach pics on your Insta story… It’s just a suggestion!
- Weapons. If you own firearms, swallow your ego and refrain from posting them on social media… Unless that’s a key part of promoting your business, and then I get it. But be aware that anyone can see what you post and put you on their long list of people to “wait ’til they go on vacation and break into their house.” Don’t let your guns become stolen firearms. You’re better than that.
- Expensive shit. Same thing that applies to weapons also applies to your fancy gadgets. The reality is, your home address might be out there somewhere on the Internet. Do you want your stuff stolen? No? Ok, cool, then stop bragging about it to the entire world. Always lock your house and your car. All I know about home security is that it’s pretty easy for a burglar to get into your house if your window unit AC is not properly secured. Make sure that thing isn’t another entryway into your home.
- Nudity/sexy pics. I’m not saying don’t post that awesome picture of your ass. We all have a right to express ourselves however we want. Just be aware of who is following you, and what else they know about you.
- Children. Should you be posting pictures of your children online? Listen to this podcast from Note To Self, and use it to formulate your own policy for posting family photos on social media.
- Photos, in general. Anything that gives away your location (in the background, in the metadata). Freak yourself out by listening to this podcast about the metadata in your photos. Learn how to remove the geotag from photos.
What posts have you recently ‘liked?’ Remember, other people can see these things. It’s not just about what you post, what you ‘like’ can tell people a lot about who you are. If you ‘like’ a bunch of pictures with firearms… chances are you might own one yourself. If you ‘like’ a bunch of pictures of hot, half naked chicks, your girlfriend can probably see it. Just sayin’… a stalker is going to do his/her homework on you and extrapolate from there.
According to Facebook, “If it’s a public event, anyone on or off Facebook can see if you’re interested or going. Your friends can always see the public events that you’re interested in or going to.” And that’s why I don’t trust it at all. So, I’m super cautious about accepting public event invites on Facebook. I do not like knowing that other people know what events I’m attending. Facebook events tell people when and where you might be, and they often broadcast it to others without your expressed consent. If someone invites me to an event on Facebook, I prefer to decline or convey “interest,” but I’ll text or email them personally to say if I’m coming or not. If I’m creating my own event on Facebook for personal reasons, I prefer to text my friends the location, rather than broadcasting my home or other addresses on Facebook.
I’m sorry (not sorry) if I’m scaring you, but that’s kind of the point. I understand that there are some really cool, awesome people on the Internet who you can share common interests with and really connect! But also, there are some creepy psychopaths out there who also could easily gain access to your home address and favorite bar where you tend to have a few too many on Friday nights.
Protect yourself by being aware of how your information can be used against you.
The final post in this series discusses how to remain aware by recognizing cues that prompt you to share your information.
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